Writers are weird.
Yes, I said it. Writers are weird. Let’s just face it.
In order to be a writer you must:
Isolate yourself from the rest of the world. Why would anyone choose to spend hour upon hour withdrawing from real life to, instead, write about an imaginary one. Think about it – the writer withdraws from loved ones, family and friends, to write about pretend people. Real friends invite me to lunch and I tell them I have to stay home and write. Very often, my imaginary world takes precedence over my real world. And it must. Or I will never finish the work.
Suffer from the delusion that to “be a writer” is the best thing in the world. There are two types of writers, and both suffer from this delusion. There is the I love to write but I don’t want anyone to read what I am writing type who writes in secret. She dreams of being a writer and would never presume to call herself one. Because to do so would be almost sacrilegious. She has no greater desire in the world than to walk into a bookstore and pull one of her books off of the shelf. She fantasizes about turning to a customer in the bookstore and saying, “I wrote this. Look, here is my picture on the cover for proof”. But the idea of that customer actually buying the book and reading it is threatening to her. Writing is so profound, such an act of intimacy, that it makes her feel too vulnerable to have others read her words. This type of writer suffers under the delusion that writing is a sacred act, words have power, and anything they write will fall short of all the glorious words already written. As a young writer, John Steinbeck wrote, “Now as always – humility and terror. Fear that the working of my pen cannot capture the grinding of my brain.”
Then there is the From the moment I picked up a pen and scribbled that first awful poem in high school I became a Writer and everyone should read and love what I have written type who loves the attention. This writer loves to write too, but they might love being a writer even more. They never fail to share their latest work with anyone who will read it, and they always find a way to mention the fact that they are working on a novel (even if that is stretching the truth a bit) into every conversation they have. They think of themselves as an artist and maybe they even dress weird to play the part. They suffer under the delusion that, as a writer and artist, they should be worshipped and anything they write is inherently wonderful and worth reading.
And the sad thing is on any given day a single writer can be either of the “types” above, depending on how the writing is going.
Believe in your writing ability with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. A writer picks up pen and paper, or sits with a laptop, and starts compiling words into a novel with the belief that someone will actually pay to read this combination of words. The writer may work for months, or even years, to create that novel. They then send it out into the world where it gets rejected multiple times by multiple agents. In the early years of his writing career, Steinbeck wrote, “I have been filled with a curious cloying despair. I haven’t heard a word from any of my manuscripts for over three months. It is nerve wrecking. I would welcome rejections far more than this appalling silence. My new novel slumbers. I doubt myself. This is a very critical time.” So, what does the writer do in the face of all this rejection? Give up and take up accounting? No. They start to write another novel. And the process begins again. Steinbeck wrote to a friend that he believed someday he would write very good novels. “The next one won’t be good nor the next one, but about the fifth, I think I will be above average.” Imagine what kind of perseverance that requires! In what other profession can you just keep plugging along until you get it right? Imagine a carpenter building one defective house after another, or a surgeon performing one failed surgery after another. The writer keeps writing, storing the failed novels on the hard drive or in a box under the bed. No one’s roof leaks and no one dies on the operating table, so the writer is able to continue writing. And keeps writing. Through rejection, self-doubt, and despair. The writer keeps writing. Again, the young Steinbeck wrote, “ I think it will take me two years to write a full length novel, counting the periods when I walk the streets and try to comb up courage enough to blow out my brains.” Even with his stunning mastery of words, he too was a writer who vacillated between self-doubt and self-belief. Had he given up, you and I would not know his name and the world would not know East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, The Red Pony, and Of Mice and Men.
Believe that writing is not optional. The writer must write. Publication is a result of writing, not the goal. If my words were never published, I would still write them. I have been writing since I was thirteen. I have moved from house to house, state to state, been married, divorced, and married again, had my heart broken a time or two, lost friends and gained friends, achieved degrees, worked in various careers, had three children, watched those three children marry, and became a grandmother of an adorable granddaughter (don’t even get me started on her!), and the only thing in my life that has truly remained constant is my need to write. I have written words through the good times and through the bad times. I’ve put my pen down, vowing to never write again, only to eventually pick it up again with the same enthusiasm and fire. Just as being female is part of my identity, so is being a writer. Which I guess is a very good thing. I am probably too weird to do much else.
“When there is no writing in progress, I feel like an uninhabited body. I think I am only truly miserable at such times”. John Steinbeck
p.s. My first novel,Life is But a Dream: On the Lake (Grace Adams Series)
is up to 38 sales on Amazon (thank you Linda!). Woo Hoo!
All Steinbeck quotes taken from Steinbeck: A Life in Letters.
Cheryl Shireman is the bestselling author of several novels, including Broken Resolutions, the Life is But a Dream series, and the Cooper Moon series. She is also the author of ten books for toddlers including the eight Let’s Learn About series focusing on different animals and I Love You When: For Girls and I Love You When: For Boys.