Oh the Horror!

20 Feb

“Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”  Paul Auster

I came across this quote the other day somewhere in my reading.  I don’t remember where I saw it, only that it hit me across the head like the proverbial sledge hammer.  It says, so elegantly and succinctly, what I’ve been trying to tell my students in every one of my writing classes; that writers are born, not made.  And I just have to write about that.

You can learn all the techniques for composition and how to write a grammatically correct sentence, of course.  You can learn how to properly format a screenplay or a play, for instance.  You can certainly learn clarity and how to get your point across without its real meaning being muddled or misconstrued.

But the drive to write, the compulsion to report, the urge to arrange words for the simple desire of communicating your thoughts, is natural only to born writers.  Really – who would wish to spend their time alone most of the day, locked in your head, trying to accurately describe the visions you see that seem to exist somewhere between your eyes and the computer screen…?  Isn’t that like schizophrenics trying to accurately describe the voices they hear?

Perhaps all writers should be medicated, if only to free them from their terrible Muse.  (God knows, I’ve tried the entire pharmacy.)  But the medications – booze, pills, dope, whatever – get in the way of the words and so I have to rid myself of pain killers.  The words rule.  The words dictate.  The words sap and diminish.  The words destroy.  The words kill.

I can’t remember being without the compulsion to write.  My first writing award came in third grade, when I was seven years old.  Later, when all the others in class moaned aloud whenever confronted with an essay question, I rejoiced.  (I hated to write greeting cards, however – absolute agony.  I wanted to write stories, not “keep in touch” – that’s what the telephone was for.)

Whenever I find such students in one of my classes, I look on them with recognition and pity.  “You’re a born writer,” I tell them.  “God help you.”

As Paul Auster says, you realize that you’re just not fit for anything else.  Yes, I can do a lot of other things well.  Producing, for one.  I loved to galvanize teams and get everyone to the finish line on time and on budget.  I had a talent for it; in fact, I was promoted to a Vice Presidency of Production because I was that good at it.

Ultimately, however, it was just a cover.  A beard.  By becoming a producer I was simply putting off being a writer because I was so scared of it.  There’s no one to hide behind when you’re a writer, no one to whom you can deflect the blame if it doesn’t come out so well.  When you’re a producer (or even a staff writer) you always have some dumb executive in the business office to blame, or any number of people in the marketing department.  When you publish a book, though – that’s you out there, naked, exposed, and alone.

Really – who would choose to do this?

Yet I had to leave producing, no matter what satisfaction it gave me and how lucrative a living it provided.  (Let’s face it, the real reason I put off writing for so long is that I knew I’d go through a lot of lean years.)

Ultimately, however, I couldn’t put it off.  There’s a line in “Cleopatra” that Richard Burton says, uttered directly after he shoves the sword into his guts:  “How could I have missed what I must have aimed for all my life?”

Writing had been, always was, what I was aiming for all my life.

And since I’ve become a full time writer it’s been every bit as scary, as impoverishing, as awful as I had imagined.  It kills you as slowly and insidiously as an inoperable tumor.  (And a tumor is exactly what this compulsion to write feels like – it’s always there, a deadening pain that forces you to forgo all other pleasures until you get those pages written.)

A friend of mine, Steve, has recently given up writing.  He can’t stand the lugubrious pace of the work, or the setbacks, or the 99 disappointments for every single success you have.  “It’s different with you,” he says.  “You like writing.”

No, I don’t.  I don’t think that anyone likes to write.  I like having written.  Writing “The End” on a novel you’ve just completed is the greatest orgasm of relief and joy that anyone can ever feel.  Everything that occurs prior to that is just so much horror.

Yet I have to keep doing it.  God knows, if for nothing else, my retirement plan can be summed up in three words:

Write.  Best.  Seller.

Here’s hoping that my latest, The Stand In, can do it for me.  But, really – who would choose to do this?


19 Responses to “Oh the Horror!”

  1. Miss Judy February 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    I was just thinking this morning that “The Stand In” is going to be a best seller. My talent is that “I know things”.

    Thank you for another wonderful read about writing. I am not a writer, but I have a tumor inside me and I need to get it out. I just can’t seem to and I’m scared. I shall keep reading your blogs for helpful hints.

    • Brad Geagley February 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Oh, my God, Miss Judy – I hope you’re right!

  2. thousandmonkeys February 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    As long as they don’t classify it as an illness and find a cure… Actually, that might make a decent plot for something. Excuse me while I find my pencil.

    • Brad Geagley February 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

      You’re right – what a great dystopian novel – how creativity and the arts are deemed superflous and are “cured” by the medical community. Let me be the first to read it when you’re done!

  3. Dawn Pisturino February 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    An excellent quote and an all-too-true post. Writing IS hard work. It’s far easier to punch a time clock and work a mindless job all day. But I only really feel happy when I’m writing and losing myself in another world. Maybe it’s just another form of escapism.

    • Brad Geagley February 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      I know – for all my bitching I’m only happy when I’m doing it. Correction – when I’ve DONE it.

  4. Kelly Cautillo February 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    That is so true! An impulse to create that makes you feel empty if you are unable to do so. It really is a part of a person, not something someone chooses (in most cases, anyway).

  5. Vikki (The View Outside) February 21, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Thank you for your post 🙂

    I was feeling a bit…..oh, I dunno…..blah yesterday. Swept up with the idea that I’m probably not cut out to be a writer…..

    But then I read this morning, what you said about “The drive to write…” and it’s given me a little boost. I do have that drive, so perhaps there’s hope for me 🙂

    Thanks again xx

    • Brad Geagley February 22, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      If I’ve gotten you over a hump – just by admitting that humps are part and parcel of a writer’s life – then I’ve done my job.

      Thanks for posting.

  6. Kelly Cautillo February 22, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Guess who’s a versatile blogger? ’tis you, my dear. Here be a link to the nomination:

    • Brad Geagley February 22, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      Thank you. You are so very kind. I really, truly appreciate your recognition.


  7. jatimlex February 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Thank you Brad for visiting my blog. I tried to sell my short story on KIndle for .99 I was a total flop, but thats okay. I’m really bad using proper grammar. I just type the way they would come out of my mouth. I’m honored to have and author and teacher read my rantings.

    • Brad Geagley February 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      HOWEVER!!!! This is what I tell my students in my class. I’m not a grammar nazi – I’m a grammar fascist!!! You’ve got to think of everything that you’ve written and have put online as your avatar – that’s YOU out there! When you have bad grammar or spelling, that’s like going to a job interview in your pajamas, And there is such an easy cure – it’s called grammar check. Turn it on, and then pay attention to what it tells you.

      To tell you the truth, I didn’t notice any bad grammar on your blog, but my rant still holds. Respect your writing – respect yourself – and most of all, respect your readers.

      Okay. Rant over. Hope this helps and inspires you.

      • jatimlex February 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

        Thanks Brad I will be more cognizant of my grammar. My readers that funny all 6 of you. Nevertheless don’t make me sit in the corner.

  8. gorgeousocity March 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Thanks Brad for visiting my blog. Fabulous reading yours. I am a writer for my sins. Magazines. And I’ve won awards. But I’m always thinking, I’m in the wrong job. I’m not even sure I like writing but I have to make a living. Like you said, it’s great when a piece is completed. And they keep publishing my stories. I started on my blog when I left full-time magazine work and now I really miss sub editors 🙂 And I used to get annoyed with them for being so pedantic! Good luck with your best seller, it will come! 🙂

  9. Cathy Dreyer March 18, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Yeah, that chimes with me. I’m a writer because I’m not fit for anything else. But I do enjoy it, some of the time 🙂


  1. A Touch Of Positivity | The View Outside - February 21, 2012

    […] something really helped me put it into perspective yesterday….. An e mail hit my inbox from Brad Geagleys blog which made me […]

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