The Terror of a Shut-in Writer.


I’m a home body, I’ll admit. I get home from work or shopping or stepping outside to see if the zombies have arrived or whatever and feel the dire need to ignore. Ignore phones, friends, the outside in general. I’ll gladly sit in front of another monitor for eight hours and do precisely nothing. This is all well and good, you might think, all dandy keen.

Point in fact, it is far from that.

As a person who thinks that the best writing comes from experience (citing here the simple notation of the extraordinary things that can happen when participating in life, or the insight that comes from simple interaction), I am consistently afraid that I am missing something. What that something is, who knows, but it’s out there and I’m right here.

It hits hardest when I see other gifted and talented people who are kind enough to acknowledge I exist going to the big cities, traveling to programs, getting their work and life to mix in a way that facilitates action. They produce! They have volumes traveling around in those active beautiful brains. I on the other hand will find exactly what I could avoid (for instance, picking at a sticker until it’s completely off of a surface. An activity that, for me, takes exactly ten minutes) in favor of producing even a handful of sentences to finish off a story I have been working on for months. What occurs here is a distaste for my inactivity which causes more inactivity.

I think it’s bad enough to be someone who wants to write. It’s kind of a cop out for one. After all, everyone is a writer, right? It’s kind of like meeting someone who says they were in the Navy Seals. They almost never were, and if you get two guys who say they were in the navy seals in the same room, chances are they are petrified since they are both lying. Writers are the same way, especially writers like me. I say that I’m a writer, but no good can come from admitting such in mixed company. inevitably there will be a few other people who also fancy themselves as the same, and the rest of the time will be spent proving to each other just how much more of a writer the other is. Great fun.

I’m not saying that this is my reason for being a shut-in. I love to get into the conversations about style, form, theory and everything else. But a writer is only a writer when they are writing. Otherwise you are just someone who says they are, but in fact are really just a sales associate or a barber or whatever. Writing demands your attention.

But in being a Shut-in, I really don’t have much of an excuse. I can’t tell myself that I didn’t pump out another page of work because 1. I was at a party 2. I was busy constructing a barn or 3. I was too busy accepting that award from so and so for being such a damned amazing hand with a pen. No, point in fact I dwell for hours and hours thinking about how I should be pushing out anything for the sake of advancement. The best thing my writing professors taught me was that a writer writes. No matter what. But me? I would rather try to remember the entirety of the theme song to the Muppet show than put a piece of paper in front of me.

This is a common problem, or at least common enough that authors can publish hundreds of books on the topic of “jump starting your creativity”. It’s all bullshit. I think that writing comes from patience and practice, not a silver bullet. What cuts out a lot of crap from being published is simply drive. The drive to stick to your promise of a story all the way to completion. Really it saves the world from the aggravation of reading another poor story from a wishful tinkerer of words.

So that leaves me to reflect: am I a writer, or am I a wishful tinkerer. The closest I got to a confirmation that I should keep up with my work came from a professor immediately after my college graduation. She shook my hand and said:

“Good luck. No, seriously, goooooood luck!”

…yeah.

She immediately saw the flaw in the statement, and, with blushing face, explained that she thought that if anyone could make a dent in the creative writing world, it’d be me. But between her semi-sarcastic well wishing and the awkward explanation immediately after, I still feel as though I’ve never had an outside justification that I should pursue the craft. I know that one should never base a life goal off of the opinion or suggestion of another. If one wants to be a writer, one should be. But damn it all, it would be a lot easier if at least one person who wasn’t a blood relative, a lover, or a good friend could tell me ” sure, go for it, I give you a thirty percent chance of making it”. That would be enough. But that would be a horrible way of feeling as though anything I produced was worth a damn.

So, even now, I write this post as a sort of avoidance to doing what I say I am. Afterwards? It’s 8:30, I’ll either play video games, fall asleep, make myself dinner, or write. But before I write I have to clean the litter box, or adjust the candle sticks, or or or…

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2 thoughts on “The Terror of a Shut-in Writer.

  1. What makes a writer? Is a fiction writer more important or valid than say a copy writer doing marketing copy or proposal writer trying to find just the right pitch for the company to win? Is someone who publishes more valid than the parent haunting the “secret” support groups of Facebook with just the right words to get someone out of a funk and through the day?

    You staying home could experience every bit as much as the jet setter. Ever watch a hummingbird flitter from feeder to feeder to bush? Ever watch a baby hummingbird fly off in frustration as he learns his very special bill isn’t yet long enough for the feeder that makes access to fake nectar easy? Or how about the way all the birds at a feeder regardless of species follow the tiny chickadee if the chickadee becomes alarmed? Or how the blue jays get nasty and push out all the other birds at a feeder? Or the persistent squirrel determined to get an easy birdseed meal despite the baffle that keeps him baffled time after time after time?

    Now take those experiences and apply them to people… you might find you have every bit as much to write about as the urbanites.

    • In the case of this conversation–and point in fact any post on this blog–I’m talking exclusively about creative writing (and maybe sometimes creative non-fiction). Copy, marketing, and proposal writing has its place, but it’s not something that tries to understand the human condition (and if it does, that person is generally fired for not staying on task).

      As far as someone who finds inspiration and help from the right comments at the right time compared to someone who publishes their work: I don’t quite understand the comparison. I think a support group is immensely powerful, and a good story can work in the same way (as far as helping someone through a hard situation) – but neither are more important than the other. Emotion is emotion, and there’s no accounting for where one finds solace.

      And I don’t disagree with your assessment that one doesn’t need to leave the home to draw inspiration, but I do think there is a marked difference between someone who imagines experience and someone who actually experiences–particularly in the case of creative non-fiction writers.

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