Writing is a lifestyle, not just a skill

Kamar Zard Buzhan - Nishapur 1

By Sonia Sevilla (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

One of my biggest doubts about myself and my potential to establish a writing career is the fear of not having a life.

Well, I do love the occasional outdoor adventure, and meeting people isn’t as terrifying as it was in high school, but I by no means classify my life as “exciting.”

We’ve all seen photos of people with super exciting lives on our Facebook feeds. It looks like every day they’re either drinking wine in Monaco, belaying off a skyscraper, or suiting up for a photoshoot of their Super Popular University Club That Only Accepts Overaccomplishers.

Why am I suddenly talking about having a life? What does this have to do with a successful career in writing? Aren’t writers supposed to shun the outside world, retreat to their chilly basements, and pen beautiful prose in voluntary isolation?

Truth is, young whippersnappers, in my brief train ride through this thing we call Life, I have found that that is not the case. You see, writers can have all the writing skill in the world, but great writing cannot exist without a subject to write about.

The greatest writers, I’ve learned, were not the ones who got awesome grades in English class (or maybe they did…I don’t know, but that’s not the point). The greatest writers all led great and interesting lives. Lord Byron. Oscar Wilde. Ernest Hemingway. The list goes on.

A writer isn’t groomed by a quality education, middle-class bring-up, or even a love of books. In fact, I keep receiving evidence favouring the opposite. Many great writers were opiate addicts, serial adulterers, and ex-convicts. The pattern is clear: great writers led radical lives.

So are you and I, quintessential “normal” people whose weekend highlight is the latest episode of GoT, doomed to be mediocre writers?

Maybe. But be that as it may, I try not to live life believing one has to be a criminal or crocodile hunter to be a successful writer. In fact, doing time in federal prison or being swallowed by a crocodile will most likely adversely affect one’s ability to write.

People like Byron, Wilde, and Hemmingway might have led crazy lives, but correlation does not equal causation. There have been many more lunatics who have not become great writers, after all. I think what Byron, Wilde, and Hemmingway had that these non-writer lunatics didn’t was a writer’s ability and tendency to observe the world and create some meaning out of it, to express that meaning in carefully-chosen words that capture and deliver a unique sentiment to a wide audience.

Man highlining in Yosemite National Park with El Capitan in the background

By LiAnna Davis (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Whether they’re real surfers or channel-surfers, writers all share certain lifestyle characteristics. We tend to be more observant of the world around us. We like to look at both the granular details of life and the holistic big picture. We like to find meaning and patterns in things that happen around us and, if we can’t find them, we create unique meanings and patterns. We value our relationships and love to observe and analyze the ins and outs of people because different people are fascinating in different ways. We like to abandon reality for imagination. We like creating something out of nothing, and we crave beauty.

I think, if you have all these characteristics, even if your life is less than amazing, you are a writer, my friend.

I think this topics deserves a more detailed post, but for now, I just want to leave the message out there that writing is so much more than…writing. In fact, the actual act of writing should be the last thing a writer does in a day. The first is living.

P.S. I sort of swiped at this topic in a past post “Am I too boring to be a writer?”

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One thought on “Writing is a lifestyle, not just a skill

  1. Is it that we always write in some way something that we aren’t or don’t have, to experience adventures we don’t have? Yet I do find stories that reflect your life, even though you’d love to tidy up the details, end up being the resonating with people. I, for one, am tired of pretending to write happy families and boy main characters. Certainly correlation is not causation, and personally I think those people caused the drama in their lives. A couple drugs later, even your best buddy might be a carnival lion out to hunt you in the dark. Just kidding, that’s probably not true, but it’s tempting to say that. 😉 As for boring, I’ve just experienced auditory hallucinations, pretended to leave after being ordered to move out, and comforted my sick friend but if I put my pen to paper write now I’d just be writing to escape my life all the same. I wouldn’t be writing reality until my life is boring again. You need that end of the day feeling to write. You can’t write in the midst of crisis, just like you can’t base your entire story on a singular feeling of crisis. A eventful life isn’t a story. A eventful + boring life is a story. And yes I often wonder how it’s like for other people who like to write-for me, I can’t imagine how I’d be anyone if I wasn’t always slyly observing. It seems to me though other writers are always in the midst of action instead of being on the side of it! Tell me how that works 😉

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