Great writing makes you swoon.
You follow and devour the works of writers who seem to write with gold-dipped pens and satin fingertips.
A well-written book, poem, and even article intoxicates you.
Just reading an inspiring sentence is delectable, decadent, mouth-watering.
How did the writer, author, wordsmith string those words together? Find the right cadence, rhythm, tone?
It makes you want to write your own entree of words to serve up to others — to later sink your own teeth into.
What’s it like to create worlds on command? To have a treasure chest of a magnificent lexicon to pull from and arrange with ease, man, what a life.
This fantasy gives you goosebumps. Not the YA fiction book kind. Like actual live goosebumps — arm-hairs raised.
Now, I’m being a bit over-the-top, of course. But stay with me.
Because thoughts like these, as exaggerated as they sound, are real to many.
Do you know how many writers don’t actually write? I’m not being funny.
I used to be one of these “writers.”
Over 200 million Americans (or more) want to publish a book.
This is serious. Many writers believe their worthiness to write hinges on their ability to sound genius or poetic or whatever flowery adjective you choose.
But why? Well, allow me to explain. And also, let me tell you how I escaped from a very unfulfilling relationship with my deluded fantasy of the writer's life. And if you’re currently trapped, how you can too.
If You’re Too Romantic, Writing Will Break Your Heart
Have you ever had these feelings about other writers and their work? Have you ever thought to yourself:
“I wish I could write like this,” or…
“F. Scott Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou, Ta-Nehesi Coates, insert your favorite writer were/are living the life I want.”
Because you feel like the gift of gifting others with the written word comes easy for some. And great writing seems like a symptom of that notion.
The celebrated writers “get” to live a romantically whimsical life of artistic freedom and expression.
Many writers equate the feeling of reading these writers with the feeling of writing. That is, their ability or lack thereof is measured against works they’ve read and the life they believe other writers live.
I speak so vividly about it because I used to be there. I remember being trapped in a fantasy that bred nothing but intimidation and inaction.
There’s no way out but to write and continually reprogram your own mind.
But really, you will write badly for a while — by comparison — and if you take it personally, it will slowly break your heart.
You’ll be determined to write the next great, loosely autobiographical coming-of-age novel. And it will have unrealistic dialogue, flat characters, and absolutely no flow.
The book, if you can call it that, will be unredeemable. It will sit in an old dusty, word document, never to be touched or referred to.
Now, this is the true test.
Many writers’ careers have stalled here. If you’ve been here, you’ve likely had a very sobering conversation with yourself about your ability and your potential.
It goes something along the lines of, “I’m not as good as I thought. I need to keep at it,” or “I’m not as good as I thought. I need to quit.”
Your mindset is the determining factor of how you respond to your heartbreak. Better yet, writers with a growth mindset don’t even perceive it as a loss but an opportunity.
Writing with renewed vision is an opportunity to fall in love with something better than the idea of writing. As cliched as it is, getting better is an opportunity to fall in love with the process.
Do your best to detach from the idea of becoming a writer. Instead, and this might sound radical, write for a few days to see if you like it.
You’d be surprised how many people don’t enjoy writing. But just really liked reading well-written stuff.
Breakup With the Fantasy of “The Writer’s Life”
“When I arrived in Paris in 1948 I didn’t know a word of French. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t want to know anyone. Later, when I’d encountered other Americans, I began to avoid them because they had more money than I did and I didn’t want to feel like a freeloader. The forty dollars I came with, I recall, lasted me two or three days. Borrowing money whenever I could — often at the last minute — I moved from one hotel to another, not knowing what was going to happen to me.” — James Baldwin, The Paris Review
You might believe this struggle is beautiful, set to the backdrop of Paris. But it’s not when you’re actually living it.
Literature and entertainment have hypnotized many a writer with the romanticism of the artist’s life.
The ratty foreign hotel room, the cigarette butts, the empty wine bottles — you get it.
Hemingway, Baldwin, Wilde, and other writers took residence in Paris once in their careers. Never mind that many of them were barely making it, working odd jobs to stay afloat.
There’s something about writers living abroad, renting rooms, and working in seclusion that sounds seductive to us.
I’ll give you a clue as to why. It’s not about the location or the bottles of Pinot.
Or even how you think their lives are shaped by their experiences.
It’s striving for something in the face of uncertainty, loneliness, and financial ruin. They, like anyone in movies with a great dream, are truly going for it.
That’s the romantic part—the work. Because, sadly, people rarely ever give their all to what they want.
The actual dream is your act of creating at this moment. It has nothing to do with some foreign destination or moment of arrival. But becoming a writer has everything to do with the process and how you feel about writing — doing the hard work.
Telling the story of a writer who made it, in retrospect, can’t help but sound cinematic.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but I will anyway. You require nothing outside of yourself.
As Stephen Pressfield says in Turning Pro, “The amateur is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be.”
This is no different than the reimagined lives of our writer heroes.
You don’t have to write a magnum opus to start. You don’t have to go anywhere beyond your bedroom to make a writer of yourself. No local coffee shop with shotty wifi required.
Now, you can still go to France or Cuba or the local Amtrak station. You can be inspired by the stories of your favorites. You can copy their rituals and routines.
The true subtitle for the section is Breakup With the Fantasy of “The Writer’s Life” for Your Own
You can craft your lifestyle in any way you imagine. Just don’t allow what you think others have done to prevent you from moving forward.
Just Like a Relationship, Writing Requires Effort
If you’ve been thinking a long time about becoming a writer, perhaps you’re experiencing mental fatigue.
Mental fatigue is the result of a sort of cognitive overload. It can manifest itself in many ways.
But for the aspiring writer, who hasn’t acted on her decision to write, it’s a circular problem.
Thinking about writing has halted and delayed your decision to write.
Thinking about writing can feel mentally draining. Especially when you don’t act. Or have a misconception about what being a writer should and could be like.
Sadly, many aspiring writers stay aspiring for years because they never actually confirm whether the feeling is true. Or conversely, they battle through multiple false-starts because what they’ve imagined life as a writer to be is far different than the reality of it.
Along with a growth mindset, a writer determined to get better needs to love writing.
Because just like a relationship, your love needs to be paired with healthy effort. There will be days when are less than thrilled about writing.
Sometimes the love will fade and you will need to inject new ideas to keep things fresh.
The determined writer uses these days to grow in character and discipline.
She doesn’t see her writing ability for what is now. She accurately sees how far she has come from a year ago, six months ago, and one week ago.
The growing writer keeps a nimble and agile mind. And is willing to give her all to her relationship with the craft, knowing that this approach is the most beneficial for her mindset and future.
Again Pressfield, this time in The War of Art, hits us in the gut, “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”
Trying every day is the effort required.
A Final Thought
If you’re a literature lover, prose-pontificator, or a wordsmith, it’s difficult to detach from your the beauty of writing (and writers).
For many of us, that’s where our passion began.
And to be real, you don’t have to get rid of that love altogether. I’d say, only be aware of how it makes you think and act regarding your own writing and abilities.
Additionally, beware of any thoughts that keep you locked in voyeurism and inaction. Don’t put anyone’s creativity on a pedestal.
As the old proverb says, “You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.”
Romanticized or not, your writing has a place. Give it time to blossom without unrealistic expectations or standards.
Once you see it for what is it, then you can unlock true joy in the craft.