A writer is told by pretty much everybody that a writer is only a writer if that writer writes. And if you read those so-called “craft” books, a writer can only be a writer if that writer writes at least two hours per day. More is encouraged. Less is, well, fine, if you want to [audibly scoff] write fan fiction. Pick up any copy of Poets & Writers or Writer’s Digest and you’ll find advice like this. It might be cloaked in encouraging exclamation points but, in the end, every piece of writerly encouragement boils down to this: Just sit down and write.
So, thusly, I am not a writer.
I cannot sit down to write 2 hours most days. I cannot, with certainly, count on anything beyond 30 minutes each day. And even then those 30 minutes are the foggy, dreary-eyed minutes after midnight when birthing words seems as impossible as birthing a baby through my eye’s lacrimal ducts. Some days I don’t even have time to register the guilt that comes along with being a writer that doesn’t write.
At this point in my life I’ve typed many many volumes and hopefully have many meaningful volumes left. I’ve had some minor screenwriting success. I’ve written hundreds of movie and music reviews for various publications and been offered invaluable opportunities as a result. I’ve interviewed Tom Hanks and John Travolta. I was close enough to Paul Newman that I could smell his cologne. I’ve been through an MFA program. I’ve been published in literary magazines and tech magazines both online and off.
But apparently I’m not a writer. I’m just a guy typing a lot of disparate words.
I’ve spent 16 years of my life typing these words. Not all in fiction, though. Fiction has only been a more recent development. And it’s only been within the last couple of years that I could admit to anyone that I was a writer, even if I don’t wholeheartedly believe it — what with that burdensome guilt resulting from not writing all the time.
My “career” began with movie reviews and entertainment journalism before moving into screenplays and copywriting. Back then, I might have been more of a “writer” though. I hauled my 47 lb. Dell laptop/boat anchor to Caribou Coffee and sat for hours on end, just working and writing and drinking massive amounts of coffee. That right there was the sweet life. Unlimited time, unlimited potential… but only limited talent. It takes years to learn how to write and write well. And though my fledgling confidence soared, I was only a student with big dreams of writing a low-budget indie horror movie that spanned genres, gained some notoriety at film festivals before being picked up by a major studio and given a limited release… and ultimately selling big as a DVD.
I keep going back to this oft suggested 2-hour rule for writers. Quite honestly, it is a source of despair and envy and frustration. If I compiled a list of all the things I need to do each day I’m pretty sure I’d need a 48-hour day. Being a part-time stay-at-home father of two girls (one is 3 and the other is 6 months) more than half my day is already spoken for. I wake at 7:15am. I generally don’t get to sniff freedom until 8:00pm in the evening. By that time, I have two-hours of clear-minded time available for productivity. But that time is split fourteen different ways. Picking up the house (half-assedly), dishes, fleeting moments of face-time with the wife, working out, taking care of leftover tasks for my day job… yada yada yada… it’s 11:00pm and I didn’t even yada yada the best part. I haven’t even opened my laptop. Maybe I “wasted” twenty minutes during that time to relax — gawd forbid — play a video game or watch a sitcom on the DVR.
Meanwhile this nagging voice in the back of my head keeps whispering:…writers make time to write…
I have a response to this voice of collective holier-than-thou literary smugness.
“I can’t make time, cocksuckers. I can’t fabricate more time or patience out of thin air. I have to do the best with the 24 hours given to me each day.” And while I’m not always the most skinflint of time conservationists, I try. And often I fail. And those days are riddled with guilt. Sometimes I give up too easily. But when I give up on a day it’s often because I hear that voice, nagging, ever-present in the back of my mind….writers make time to write… …a writer writes… That voice does not often inspire me. It has been repeated and reinterpreted to the point of meaninglessness. I feel like a child that’s been spanked too much. I feel so much guilt from thinking these things while I struggle to find time to write that the guilt means nothing. It doesn’t inspire me. It often just leads to anxiety and sometimes, as it has in the past, depression. And ultimately more non-writing.
It is true beyond a reasonable doubt that writers must write. But like the end of Voltaire’s Candide, a writer (or really any slave to the creative drive), must also first tend to his garden, guilt-free, in order to create without baggage. When I am immune to the guilt, I am a writer. I scribble notes in my journals and on napkins and receipts in my wallet. My mind is always working and plotting ideas and fixes for broken stories. I’ll put all of those notes aside to tackle whenever it is I’ll next have 30 minutes or 2 hours of rare undivided, uninterrupted, unshackled writing time. But rest assured when I have the time, I’ll be a goddamn writer whether that voice approves of me or not.