Here we are, the first post of a brand new year, the slate metaphorically wiped in the hopes of starting anew, creating a time that is newer, better, different than those before it. Of course, we know this is unlikely, but as Pandora found out, hope is the most pernicious, and most dangerous, of all the creatures in humanity’s box.
So, in this new year, what advice might I offer to you, the readers, writers, thinkers and dreamers of the electronic voidlands? What do I have to say to you here, in this cold January?
Give it up. Put down the pens and paper, the pencils and notebooks, the keyboard and fingerpaints. Stand up from your desk, your coffeehouse table, and walk away from this lunatic dream. Pour your heart and soul into some other artistic pursuit, or none at all: there’s room enough for people whose imaginations are quiet or eroded into the faint glimmerings of dreams. In some respects, those people have it easier, without the needled teeth of hungry aspirations tearing at their heels.
What will writing get you, anyway? Your odds of making a living at it, much less being a success, are astronomical at best; you’ve got a better chance of being a point guard in the NBA than becoming a best-selling writer, even if you’re a 5’ 2” asthmatic with a wooden leg. Artistic respect? Good luck, even if you’re good enough to merit it. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not; hell, you might be with this story and not with the next, or vice versa. The Muses are fickle, and nobody—I mean nobody—is good all the time. Except maybe those folks like Harper Lee, who hit it out of the park once and then essentially, maybe sensibly, retired with the cheers still ringing in their ears. This doesn’t consider the question of audience, that gormless, faceless, multi-headed entity seduced away by TV and the Internet and video games and all sorts of electronic lotus-eating that is so much flashier, so much easier than the printed word.
Maybe more importantly, being a writer will isolate you, in ways subtle and overt. You will observe people, and if you’re good at it, you will sometimes see things you might wish you hadn’t. Every contact, every conversation will become grist for the mill and fodder for the cannons, and those closest to you will soon become aware of that. How will people treat you if they know everything they say, every gesture could end up in a story months or years from now?
Let’s say this never comes into play for you; you’re still going to be isolated, because this pursuit takes up an unholy amount of time. Days of sweating over sentences, paragraphs, grinding through exposition and dialogue and scenes by yourself, while the laundry piles up and the kids whine about dinner and your spouse/partner looks at you quizzically when you try to explain the logjam of plot and character inside your head and heart. Even if everybody in your life is a paragon of patience and understanding, you will be apart from them when you’re working, and sometimes when you’re with them. Or are you one of those rare few who don’t think about your story and characters even when you’re not writing about them?
To sum up, then, we have an art form with a shrinking, enervated audience, with little prospect for artistic fulfillment and even smaller chances for financial remuneration, that will demand endless hours of time and thought and require you to separate yourself from others, if only intellectually and temporarily. Lots of work, little reward, and hey, what are the odds you even have what it takes? How many rejection letters do you need, anyway? Wallpaper is cheaper, faster and hurts less. Why punish yourself further? Start your New Year with an act of good sense, not to mention self-preservation. Put aside these mad hopes, and give yourself the freedom to pursue a life beyond this writing game. You’ll thank me.
Of course, if you can take that superficially sound advice, you weren’t a writer to begin with, no matter what your talent. After a certain point, volition and sensibility are irrelevant. You are a writer because, when all is said and done, you can’t not be a writer. No matter your talent, no matter your skill, the calling to write is irreducible and, sometimes sadly, unavoidable. To everyone else hanging on in the face of doubt and reproach, talent and tribulations in the wind, I salute you, and wish you the best in the twelve months to come.