Permission Granted: Proceed to Write.
Writers at every stage of development have heard certain advice over and over again.
-Show, don’t tell.
-Read as much as you can.
-Write every single day.
-Join a writer’s group.
-Avoid passive voice.
-Be 90% business person, 10% writer.
-Find your voice.
-Write what you know.
-Believe in yourself.
I could add more to this list of mostly legitimate advice.
Yet there is one bit of counsel that doesn’t often make it onto these lists. A step each writer must take, and take constantly: You must give yourself permission to be a writer. This is something with which I struggle almost daily.
The mechanics of writing well can be difficult. Developing that into an art form is also a challenge. Having to do all of the marketing for your own work, even if you get a publishing contract is for many of us the most trying aspect of being a writer. Yet none of it matters if there is any part of you that believes you should be doing something “more important”.
People who embark upon a writing life have heard comments about giving up food, electing to live in a cardboard box, or becoming the most well-read fry cook that McDonald’s has ever known. Our work and our passions get compared to “real jobs”, and we as people are contrasted with those that are “productive” with their time and “contribute something” to society. We’re quite familiar with the passive-aggressives who say they long for the luxury to “sit around all day at home and pretend” like we do, instead of “having to work for a living.”
The great hypocrisy is that many of these naysayers are consumers of the written word. A fact to which they will respond, “yeah, but you’re no….(fill in the blank with name of successful writer)”.
Let’s face it; writing aspirations are often eschewed by our peers. Writers, (and others in the arts and humanities) are often shunned by a society that still has the rusty iron pole of the Protestant Work Ethic shoved straight up its ass to keep it in line.
There is only so much the romantic, magical perspective on the wonders of being a writer can do to counteract this after a while. Even the happiest, most self-aware of writers are bound to buckle under this judgmental eye on occasion.
That is the reason we writers must daily canvas the gardens of our souls in search of invasive species. Weeds and fungus known as guilt and shame. Guilt for not majoring in something marketable, or for paying the bills with a job that has no upward mobility. Shame at the fact that imagination is at the core of our identity, and that we seek to engage the world through our words just as much, if not more so than through our actions.
Do not allow such plants to take root, my friends. Like kudzu they will be covering and strangling everything else, PDQ.
A lucky few writers may not have ever experienced the slight dismissal from colleagues, the upturned nose at a cocktail party or the finger pointing of in-laws who expected more for their little one. But the rest of us, (and I know there are many) live with a near perpetual inclination to justify ourselves and our calling to the world.
The only inoculation to such chronic self-destructive behavior is to fully embrace our nature, and give ourselves unconditional permission to orient our lives to one of many potential writer paths. To realize we can be our own highest blockade. To embrace without question our place in the world of storytellers and wordsmiths. To call ourselves writers and insist that those around us do the same or depart from us forthwith.
I am many things. Among them, a writer. And if you wish to be one as well, start by giving yourself permission to be one, right now. And never relinquish that permission to anyone, especially to you. The rest will come later.