Writing: The Life Illiterate


Writing: The Life Illiterate

Hello. My name is Emily. Occasionally, I do things other than write.

Shocking, I know! Even when I don’t have to do these things. Even when they’re not particularly tempting things.

Sometimes, I would rather play Piano Keys than write. Sometimes, I would rather stare at my Facebook news feed with my eyes unfocused than write. Sometimes, I would rather look at long lists of vapid celebrity gossip (27 Ways You’ve Never Seen Taylor Swift’s Hair Look Before! 19 Glorious Golden-Skinned Teenaged Actresses to Judge Yourself Against!) than write. And I hate celebrity gossip. Unless it’s about me. Which it never is.

Sometimes I come home from work–a day that, plus travel time, often runs twelve hours–and I am so brain-numb, so skull-fucked, so thought-fried, that the only thing I want to do is lie down in bed, pick out constellations in the popcorn ceiling, and never think about anything ever again. I frequently get less than five hours of sleep at night. Do you know what it’s like to be away from the house for twelve hours, come home at eight, clean up last night’s mess AND cook tonight’s dinner, with the full knowledge you’re going to lather/rinse/repeat this cycle five days this week, and fit some other stuff in there too?

You probably do know. You probably do it too. My story isn’t self-pity sob-sob, it’s classic Americana at this point in the economy.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it happens to everybody. And, while I am firmly of the sit your ass down and write school of literary craftsmanship, the fact remains–sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.

And I think we need to talk about this, too. Because, if you believed every blog you read, it would look like most of us were writing automatons, able to ignore the pressures of day to day life and ART CONSTANTLY, dammit.

And it isn’t true. It just isn’t. Sometimes, you don’t want to write. You don’t want to read. You don’t want to do something particularly literary and constructive with your time, even though you usually enjoy literary and constructive things. I’ve had entire days–days–where I did nothing, accomplished nothing, wrote nothing, talked to no one, ordered pizza for dinner.

They were awesome. Fucking. Days.

My point is: everyone needs some time off. Not just from work, but from writing. From being the upper-class literary butterfly we all know you are. And on those days, cutesily though you might protest, you’re glad you didn’t get anything done. You might tweet about it the next day with dramatic sadness (‘totes unproductive today!!! #frownyface #writerslife’), but deep down inside, you know you needed that time and you’re fucking glad. You enjoyed yourself.

I’m a fairly prolific writer. I usually write two to three thousand words a day, though this number is hard to judge, as I never look at my word count. I flatter myself I’m fairly good. I’ve read all the right literary books and hold with all the proper literary opinions.

But fuck that. Because, sometimes, you need a break.

Does my 2-3 K wordcount make me any more of a writer than someone who gets down eighty words a day? No, it doesn’t. Hell no. Let’s face it, ain’t none of us doing this for a living.

Does it make me more of a writer than someone who hasn’t picked up a pen in two years?

This is where people get shirty. Because I say yes, it does.

I’ve made it a priority. It’s slightly more groundshaking on the Richter scale of my existence than getting eight hours of sleep, but less than getting six hours (we fight for those six hours, baby). I squeeze it in. I’ve made sacrifices for it. It’s part of me, and a part that matters enough to make time for.

But even I, like I said, need a break every once in a while.

Enough with this fabricated pre-packaged pablum that is ‘the literary life’. Enough with trying to sell ourselves the story of our own greatness, our own literary involvement, our own Byronic wit. Enough with the self-branding, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman bullshit, the idea that anybody, anybody, takes a writer without a six-figure book deal seriously as a literary fountainhead.

You’re a person who likes to write sometimes. You do it well, or poorly, or some combination of both.

And then, sometimes, you go out to a club, drink something pink called a Fuck It Bucket, and shake your ass to some Pitbull. Sometimes you buy groceries with coupons and haggle with the cashier over clearance gravy mix, prefer James Patterson to James Joyce, pick up a glossy magazine, paint your toenails. Sometimes your anniversary dinner disagrees with you and you spend what should have been a love-filled night in the bathroom, your husband holding your hair while you vomit whole kernels of corn into the toilet bowl. Sometimes you get fired, and it’s totally because you did something stupid. And you never learn your lesson. In fact, you never even figure out it was your fault.

You do, in short, unliterary things. ‘Unworthy’ things. You do things which are unwriteable, things which just don’t jive with your view of yourself as a coffee-drinking, hardcover book loving, mahogany-desk owning character in the story you’ve carefully composed about your author-self.

Keep doing them.

Keep doing them because they’re you, and you need a break from the Hemingwayesque hell you’ve made for yourself.

Keep doing them because you’re a person, not a writer-character in a story.

Should you write, devote time and care to writing and getting better at writing?

God. Yes. If you haven’t gotten that by now, the answer is YES. And you should enjoy doing it. Otherwise, why are you?

But you have to do other things too, to remain sane. And, if you’re wise, you won’t be ashamed of them, because they’re a part of who you are, and a part of your writing.


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