TWEETS FROM A WRITER'S LIFE
Lately I’ve been attempting to expand my social media empire by plowing sword-first through the jungly territories of Facebook and Twitter. Writers nowadays are expected to be so much more than just heartbreaking wordsmiths with an affection for alcohol and melodrama. We are expected to be social media gurus and masters of self-promotion, even if our masterpieces are still in the oven.
So, in the name of building a readership for myself in an age of duck-faced celebrity selfies, I’ve marched bravely onto the social media battlefield, often feeling as confused as an alcoholic Civil War general trying to grab a victory in the age of modern warfare. Luckily, I’ve found a few small successes.
As with other struggles in life, my social media struggle has compelled me to search for a larger community of sufferers, and I’ve found some via Twitter. I’ve found fellow writers. Some of these writers are published, some are relatively successful, many I’ve absolutely never heard of, and almost all of my Twitter brothers and sisters are faces that I wouldn’t recognize if I passed them walking down the street (such is life in our social media age, which is fine for writers because we don’t like to talk too much in person most times anyway).
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve put out some writing-life tweets @mspriebe, and I’ve found modestly encouraging responses in the form of likes and retweets. One of my writing quotes was even liked by Oliver McGee, a former senior policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology (maybe I should give up fiction and inspirational writing and just focus on formulating quotes for desk calendars, I don’t know).
If you are someone currently immersed in a writer’s life—or even if you are someone who just writes for the office occasionally or keeps a personal journal—I think you will enjoy my quotes. Here are a few of them with further explanations.
Quote #1 “A passionate writing session is a step towards immortality.”
Now, at first read this thought might seem like nothing more than smug, writer’s bullshit, but I assure you it isn’t, and here’s why:
We all want to transcend the mundane and limiting aspects of our lives. We all want to make our lives special and get closer to leaving a singular mark on the world. We all want to build something that will proudly outlast our failing flesh. Whether it is a novel, a series of letters, a policy at our company, a family, or an ice-fishing shanty, everyone wants to create something that will stand after they have fallen. Everyone who is aware of their mortality wants to transcend it. Writing gives people a chance to create something everlasting while getting outside of life’s quotidian humdrum.
Quote #2 “Decisions in life are hard. Decisions in writing are harder.”
Now, at first read this thought might also sound like smug, writer’s BS. But again, I assure you it isn’t. While the decisions we have to make regarding writing obviously aren’t as important as the decisions we have to make regarding our spouses and children and health, it’s hard to overstate how difficult they can be. It’s hard to overdramatize the manner in which mental energy is wasted agonizing over a piece’s major revisions, minor tweaks, and final endings.
We make decisions about finances and families and trust the best outcomes to the Lord or fate, but when dealing with writing decisions, we often feel that we have the final and ultimate say over success and failure. As such, the decisions become all the more frightening.
If we cut a paragraph and a piece isn’t well-received, we wonder if that cut paragraph was to blame. If we add a paragraph because we are loving the language that day, any subsequent failings can be blamed on a penchant for wordiness. Did an editor not like our use of hyphens or commas? Was the point we were trying to make buried beneath too many distractions?
Writers will forever wonder if a different version would have been better.
The decisions that have to be made regarding the written word can be difficult and they can paralyze people with fear, but writers have to pull up their big-boy and big-girl pants and make them anyway. We have to get better at trusting ourselves to make them, and I think we have to get better at trusting the hands of God and fate after the decisions are made as well.
Quote #3 “Writing is a daily exercise in proving yourself to yourself.”
Some people are addicted to reading. Most aren’t. Some people truly couldn’t get through a day without a stack of books or a Web browser full of bookmarked columns, but many other people meet their daily reading quotas by scanning TV listings, Facebook posts, and cereal boxes.
The cold truth that writers have to remember is that a lot of people really don’t read a lot. And even fewer people really, truly care about the nuances and clever twists and turns in our short stories, blog posts, and novel chapters—at least not until we get gigantically famous.
Writers sweat, agonize, writhe, take in too much caffeine, writhe some more, go on the treadmill, try to read, start chasing the caffeine with alcohol, think some more, and then finally hit submit on a piece. And then we wait. And then we finally start to hear the roar of . . . crickets. Few people notice our work. Fewer still will ever know the pain it took to produce that work.
Where are all of the involved readers we imagined as we were sitting at the laptop or notebook?
Writers have to remember that actually connecting with readers is difficult, and we have to remember that even family members, friends, and close acquaintances have bills, dinner plans, and car repairs to worry about before they can devote time to reading. We have to remember that our writing will probably never be as important to anyone else as it is to us.
So, if you are currently writing and plan to continue that path, it is important to remember why you are doing it. You are ultimately doing it for yourself.
Writing is about showing yourself that you can do something that your heart and soul long to do. Writing is about standing up for your own voice. Writing is about proving to yourself that your voice is worth something. Every victory in life is ultimately a personal victory, especially writing.
So, the next time you finish a poem, journal entry, short story, novel chapter, or blog post, just sit back for a moment and feel incredible about yourself. You took a step towards immortality, you conquered some inner critics and demons, and you proved yourself. Nicely done.
Quote #4 “Writing that’s inauthentic will haunt a good author until he or she fixes it.”
Did you ever rip apart the dialogue or plot of some cheesy movie because it just had no place in the real world? Did you ever get bothered by some sitcom or trashy novel because everything in it just came across as so unbelievably unbelievable? Remember those reactions. That’s how bad first or second drafts of yours should feel when you’re reading them and considering whether to revise or not.
If a person cares about the quality of his or her writing, plots and sentences that stink of inauthenticity should bother the brain until they are fixed.
When a character in a fictional story reacts to something, ask yourself, is this how similar situations have played out in my personal experiences?
When you are writing a blog post or a personal essay, ask yourself, is “uncomfortable” really how I felt during that period of my life, or was it more like insanely depressed and occasionally suicidal?
Try to get more accustomed to telling the truth. Be real. Be authentic. That’s what people want out of relationships, and that’s what readers want out of writing. Authenticity is one of the things readers value most about their favorite writing. I know I do.
Quote #5 “A writing session is kind of like scheduling one-on-one time with your soul.”
Everyone knows that writing is a solitary affair for the most part. Maybe sitcom authors and Saturday Night Live writers get together in “war rooms” to kick ideas around, but for the majority of writers, the work is something that’s done locked away in some version of a home office or crammed into the corner of some overpriced coffee shop. For me, when the latter scenario is playing out, I’m usually trying to crank up the Pandora volume until I can’t hear the table next to me talking about doctor’s visits and scattered gossip.
It can be frustrating and lonely spending so many hours by oneself at a desk or café table, but there is also something spiritual about that sort of seclusion. In the midst of the (hopefully) quiet writing session, we start to hear ideas come from within ourselves, and we start to learn more about why we even have those ideas in the first place. We get to know ourselves better. We get to know our dreams and fears better, and hopefully, we take legitimate steps towards conquering some of those fears and reaching some of those dreams.
Writing is therapeutic and meditative, and without that sort of ruminate time in some form, I think people have difficulty finding an authentic voice in life. Without those blocks of reflective, creative time, I think people will have a hard time finding a little true satisfaction in life, as well. Despite its frustrations, writing is worth it. Writing is personal development and spiritual maintenance rolled into one.
Quote # 6 “Writing allows us to give forms and faces to our emotions. It makes them relatable.”
There are few things as heartbreaking as concluding that no one understands the mystic stew of emotions and desires swirling inside of you. There are few things as therapeutic as being able to describe your experiences and feelings with some sort of accuracy to others. Writing allows us to take the ether of our most complex feelings and hammer it into something that others can grasp, at least to some extent.
Quote #7 “Writing is more fulfilling when we give ourselves complete creative control.”
“What does that even mean?”I can hear you asking.
I can hear you asking, “Who else would have control over a writer’s words, if not the writer?”
Well, I’ll tell you who else can have the control. A former boyfriend or girlfriend can have the control. A spouse, a sibling, an imagined reader, an imagined editor, a former teacher, a former pastor, or some random person that is sitting next to you at the coffee shop and lamenting the decline of American values can have the control.
When writing, if we are too afraid of offending someone or too concerned with pleasing everyone, then we don’t have full creative control, and the process is less than enjoyable. When a writer is constantly changing around thoughts and narratives to fit someone else’s idea of what things should sound like, he or she is giving up creative control.
If you are stifling your writing because you are worried about someone reading it and thinking Was this written about me?, then you aren’t in the driver’s seat during that writing session.
When you hesitate to touch on a subject because you are too busy wondering Will this make me look weird to people, or selfish, or weak?, then it’s hard to find topics to actually write about, at least with any sense of authenticity.
And FYI, just because I recognize the need for writers to give themselves complete creative control doesn’t mean I’m great at actually doing it. I’m constantly wondering what some phantom reader or real family member might be thinking. But when I find myself becoming too timid, I try to remember the wisdom of quote number three from above. I try to remember that it’s all about proving myself to myself. And if any writers out there are actually reading this, you will do well to remember that truism as well.