What we tell ourselves, and other lies

There are thoughts I’m having today that need to be written down. My inner critic, of course, questions the very premise of necessity as it relates to writing. Gut check done, I remind myself that I’m speaking only for myself: that I write only for myself. I have heard many a writer claim that they write with an audience in mind, and I don’t doubt them. Some of these people, in fact, are very fine writers.

But I do wonder whether giving the reader what they want, or think they want, is going to get anyone anywhere. I mean, book sales, sure. Plenty of those to go around, although not nearly enough for some, I suppose. But it can’t be all about book sales, can it? If you’re living for now, sure. And, I guess, what else is there if not for money, which helps feed us and pay our bills because, well, what else is there?

More and more, we live in a capitalist society where money is all, and we all need to earn our right to a living—unless we earn X number of dollars per year, then we don’t actually have a right to live at all, do we? Likewise with writers, musicians, artists of all kinds — if you’re not earning a minimum amount in sales and royalties each year, you might as well not exist. Why write if you can’t write a bestseller? Your ideas should be palatable to the masses, or else you should be working a job. It’s one or the other. You might have a choice, but, if you’re really a writer, it’s no choice at all.

I admit, I get tired of the shitty writing. Not just my own. I mean, I’m a huge proponent of the necessity—even the desire—of writing a shitty first draft. Every great draft begins with the first draft, so whatever it takes. That first draft will necessarily be lesser than its future incarnations, but that’s not a viable reason for never writing it. It would be like saying if you can’t perform a perfect heart surgery, you have no right to study to be a doctor. Or if you can’t skate like Conor McDavid, you should abandon all hope of playing in the Pee Wee tournament when you’re young. Or you should not aspire to be a better person because you’re barely even a good person now.

Fact is, you’re a person right now, and that’s a start towards becoming a better person; it’s the only prerequisite, really. Many of us strive for improvement nearly every day. Same with writing: becoming a better writer starts with being a writer. Don’t commit suicide—that is, don’t stop writing—just because you’re not there yet.

And where exactly is “there”? I know writers who give up because all they had were book contracts but not much in sales, or ideas without finished manuscripts. Or they had written manuscripts and were continuing to write them, but with diminishing promise for a big break-out novel. So they quit.

Well, good. That clears the field of people who think writing is about fame and fortune, or even just a small amount of fame with a modicum of financial security. I mean, if that’s what it is for you, then I won’t argue with that. I just don’t want it for myself.

Shitty writing eventually grows into a giant, leafy tree, depending on where you bury it. In your upstairs bedroom closet, you’re guaranteed nothing will sprout. Nothing good can grow in the dark. But out in the yard exposed to the raw elements and the scattered bit of sunlight, and your shite might actually spring something good, if not useful. A good gardener can help you with that.

To be honest, I don’t care if art is useful; I only care that it makes me feel something and, if I’m lucky, it makes me think about something. If I’m really, really the luckiest man in the world at that moment, the art that I experience will blow the windows and doors of my mind wide open, maybe knock down a wall or a ceiling, make the floor wobble. I don’t expect a break-through, but one might come if the writer has done their job well.

And maybe I’m capable of writing that mind-shattering piece of prose or poetry myself. I think I am. I don’t think I’ve done it yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. I don’t try often enough though, these days. I mean, you need to sit your arse in the chair and actually write. That’s the only way.

But if you can’t be bothered to do that, then don’t kid yourself that you’re a writer. And don’t look at me as if I’ve just killed your dream. No, because you did that yourself. Every day when you didn’t get up and go to keyboard or grab a pen and some paper, and at least put in the time, even if nothing comes out, you’re killing your dream slowly but surely. And if you’re okay with that, there’s no one to blame. Maybe not even yourself, if that’s how you want it.

But I’ve had people look at me and say, “Don’t tell me I should be writing,” or “Don’t encourage me. That’s pressure.” Or: “I’m on this writing retreat to relax; don’t expect me to write.”

Fine. I get it. Relaxation is important for a healthy mind. So I’ve heard. I won’t even dispute that; it’s necessary, and that’s all.

But I am not your enemy because I insist on writing. Because I ask a first draft, no matter how shitty. Because I demand a better verb, one that tickles my brain, brings a smile to a face with its perfection, and brings a human moment to life in the form of a resurrection of a memory that would otherwise have died. In pace requiescat. Because I say to you that you are a good writer, or a very good writer, but that you should aspire to greatness because you’re likely to find more edible fruit on that path than if you stop at the good gate or the barely good window, looking in and wondering what might be possible if you went a bit further, maybe ventured into the farmer’s market instead of standing in the doorway. Maybe growing your own and fertilizing and tilling the soil, and praying for right conditions because you’ve done everything else you can, including picking it and bringing it the table, or to market, yourself.

I struggle to make a living, maybe because I think I already deserve to live. I struggle to make time to write, but I do, like right now, for instance, these past ten minutes. And every moment I manage to write something is sacred: I am fulfilling my destiny as a creative human being every single time I try to come up with a better word than “was”. And, in the end, I will take a bunch of those moments in flight towards the defiant sun any day over a bank vault full of dead RSPs and royalty cheques. Because, in that same end, the money is useless, but the good word will outlive you, if you’ve done your job well.

Something on my mind

I’ve been busy all day. Doing this, doing that. Always with the ghost of a thought flitting around my head, reaching from corners, peering through the window – there’s something else, isn’t there?

No matter what I’ve done today – and I’ve been totally inside (both literally and figuratively) all day – I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something more, something bigger. That the world is just waiting for something. If there’s a silence, surely it needs to be filled. Right?

Maybe not. But maybe. I don’t know.

Writing this post has left me more restless than before. Some will read this and think, “Why is Gerard depressed?” Let me assure you, I’m not. I’m just searching – or, rather, my mind is searching for the something else that’s out there.

What should I be doing? Where should I turn my attention tomorrow.

I have things to do. Every day, I work. Every day, I write the book. Thank you for that line, Elvis Costello.

Maybe it’s that restless feeling that Springsteen describes: “I’m sick of sittin’ ’round here tryin’ to write this book.” But that’s not it either. I actually love writing. I don’t get nearly enough time for writing, and that’s a fact.

I’ve been plagued lately with the thought that I have so many stories to tell that I wonder if I’ll live long enough to tell them all – to write them all down, to get them out into the world.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living life backwards, like I’ve already said and done all the things that people are only now catching up to. I see bits of myself everywhere, except they’re bits that I said long ago, and I’m only seeing an echo of them now on social media.

And it leaves me feeling disconnected, like an old man trying to tell the kids, “Why, when I was your age…”

I don’t even know what I’m trying to say, except maybe this: there’s more. There’s something else. None of this is enough. None of this is all there is.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t just chill. Does it?

And, in reading this, I think what I really mean is that there’s more of me. There’s something else of me, isn’t there? I have more to say, more to do, more places to go, more to be. And it’s not that I have more to prove anything because the only one I need to impress is me, and, believe me, that’s something that doesn’t happen very often.

The only time I’m satisfied is when I manage to speak some truth. Some irrefutable godspoken insight that makes me feel like the gears of the earth just clicked into place and, some day, someone’s going to find that thing I said and not throw it away, but tuck it away and keep it, and take it out on a dreary evening and say, “Yeah, that’s the thing. That’s something real.” Not because I said it, but because it got said – the word that attaches itself to a thought and gives form to the spirit.

I think I’m done for now, for now.