— Marcus McGee
The words above say it all, in the most simple of ways. Like many other writers, I like to share and discuss my craft with similarly-afflicted souls. It’s a healthy exchange in which ideas and story-lines are put to the test, scrutinized and refined.
I always think of a tortured Poe in a seedy Philadelphia tavern, swigging cognac, or brandy in lean times, while penning a critique on Longfellow, describing him as, “a dexterous adapter of the ideas of other people.” And I think of Hemingway in Montparnasse at La Rotunde, sipping coffee or some potent potable, while exchanging ideas with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot or Jean-Paul Sarte. There is a definite romance in the minds of many about the lives of writers, but the reality is that writers write, period.
I have been in the company of many “writers” who want to talk about writing. I have visited dozens of writers’ groups and have attended various writing workshop events where the sharing and critiquing are focal points.
Perhaps I am cynical about the term, “writer,” because I imagine that the greater portion of the persons involved in intricate discussions about writing and who attend writers’ events are not writers at all. Rather, they are fans of writing and writers, who will never finish developing that great idea and sit down to do what writers are supposed to do.
It’s a lonely business, yes. And unlike music or visual art, which can be immediately appreciated, writing requires hundreds, or thousands of hours spent alone, developing, planning, researching, writing, revising and re-writing — sans encouragement or praise, sans the verbose opinions of others, who would rather talk about writing, and sans the kudos or the promise of fame and fortune upon completion of the work. The only reward is finishing… so that you can start the next project.
That has been my life. I write seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year, though not always with a pen in my hand or at a keyboard. When I’m catching up on the news, I’m writing (a great source for ideas). When I’m listening to a song, I’m writing. When I’m listening to a child translate the world to me, I’m writing… because, as a writer, I am constantly preparing for the next time I sit down to write.
When I am not writing on a project, I am organizing the next project, and when I am on a project, I stick to a writing schedule which, depending on plot complexity or difficulty, will range from 1,200 to 2,000 words per day for five days a week. I am burned-out on some days and don’t feel like writing, but I still remain in my writing zone for the allotted time, either researching or developing another project.
It is a deliberate, plodding existence, but it penetrates to the core of my being and dominates all other activity. Such an obsession has its downsides, of course, but I have learned to accept who and what I am, with all my warts, eccentricities and foibles. My few friends are patient, forgiving and understanding, and I grapple them to my soul with hoops of steel.
And so, while I will make every effort to establish friendships and relationships with other writers, I will know them by what they do: writing, and finishing what they write. So I invite all writers to do just that—to sit down alone, away from the talkers and fig-showers, away from the romanticism about writing… and just write! When you have finished something, please share it with me, and I will share with you. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
Pop Quiz: What Do Writers Do?