Should I be a writer?

I can’t tell you how often this question plagues me each and every day because it’s a question that really doesn’t have a clear cut answer. There’s the age old adage that if you wake up and the first thing you think about is writing than you must be a writer. But I don’t necessarily think that holds true or should be the line that is drawn in the sand when it comes to making a decision about who you are and what you want to do with your life.

Sometimes I wake up and writing is the farthest thing from mind. Since I have a full time job my mornings are often plagued with thoughts of deadlines I need to meet or reports that must get finished. The dread and exhaustion of heading into work takes over and all I can really think about is if I have enough time to make a cup of coffee before I head out for the day.

The desire and need to write creeps up on me, usually at the most inconvenient times. It can happen at any time of the day – while I’m sitting in a meeting, out with friends, at a movie or simply in my car driving somewhere. That one is the worst because just like you shouldn’t text and drive you shouldn’t try to pen and drive as well. Some simple advice – leave the notepad at home or firmly out of reach in your purse or back seat. Trying to scribble a brilliant thought while navigating the mean streets of San Diego might be the type of thrill ride you needn’t experience.

Then there are days and even weeks that go by were I don’t feel compelled one bit to put words to paper. Maybe nothing excited happened to me during that time worth writing about. Perhaps the event I was originally pulling inspiration has long past or the person I looked to as my muse just fell off the map.

Regardless of how or where you draw your inspiration from that is the one ingredient you must have if you want to be a writer. And I truly think this can’t be said enough.

Simply assembling words into a coherent sentence isn’t enough. It’s only the means to an end. It is the tool you use to tell a story. Inspiration, or lack of, is the line of separation between those who write to say something and those who just write for the sake of writing.

Think back to a piece of work that really left an impression. For me, it was Anthem by Ayn Rand. Not even close to being one of her more famous pieces of work, Anthem got under my skin and has stayed ever since. It wasn’t that the story itself was complex or that the characters were completely different from any other that had ever been created. At times the syntax was disjointed and the main character’s diction could come off flat. It felt like I was bobbing around inside someone’s head, riding the waves between disjointed and random thoughts and spots of brilliant clarity. It was enough to make any reader frustrated. When I run into people who have actually heard of this book and have read it they almost always ask me “why?” when I tell them it is one of my favorite books. There are various reasons; but what it comes down to is that when I put it down after that first read I said to myself “god damn that was good!” and found myself picking it up no more than one week later for my second romp through its pages.

My love affair with Anthem has been consistent ever since. And that is the mark of good writing and an even better writer. Safe to say I wish I was half the writer Rand was.

Writing carries risks. When you go out and experience life, and then use those experiences and the inspiration pulled from them to create something new and unique to yourself, you are opening yourself up to a world of criticism and exposure. And I don’t think the size of your paycheck determines your success as a writer. When it is turned from a labor of love into a chore, is it really worth the effort?

So if you want to be a writer my advice is this – when you write because you feel like you have to and not because you want to, put that pen down. Stop typing on that keyboard. Go out into the world and take a breather. When you actually have something to say your fingers won’t stop moving against the keyboard until it is there and in front of you.

What I’ve said above is obviously my own opinion. Maybe you disagree with me. For some, the style of writing and the genre are more important than the message. For others, they only believe a person can be a writer if they can make a living off of it. For me, I write without receiving one penny. It is not my livelihood. Are there times I wish it was? Sure! But for now it is my lifeline. It is the part of me that gets to breakaway from the mundane and explore all I have to offer, both to myself and those around me. And because of that I gladly call myself a writer.