Writing for non-writers

Today was a family-filled day; however, I did wind up spending some time talking about writing with someone who does not write.

That's always an interesting experience, right up there with discussing attending Harvard with someone who only knows about it from the movies, or discussing living in New York City with someone who thinks you deserve a Congressional Medal of Honor for having ridden the subway.

The primary miscomprehension that people who don't write have about writing is what it takes to write. It takes 1. a chair, 2. something to write on, 3. a willingness to sit in #1 and work on #2 for long periods of time. That's really all it takes.

This person began with, Don't you need to do oodles of exciting things in order to gain the "life experience" you need to write! Just like Ernest Hemingway!

Ah, sigh, yes, Ernest Hemingway. Let's look at Ernest Hemingway. Such a talented writer. And yet, such was his dedication to "life experience" that he "life experienced" himself into severe alcoholism, which made it so he could not write. And then, in despair because he could not write, Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head, which really made it so he could not write.

Moral of the story? Howzabout: Don't be Ernest Hemingway? Lay off the sauce, and don't buy that gun--those are not helpful habits. Screw "life experience" if it leads to you developing debilitating disorders and then shooting yourself. Parking your butt in that chair (#1) and attacking your writing tool (#2) despite the temptations of booze and suicide are far more fruitful activities.

No. No one wants to hear that. Writing should be about sex! and excitement! and substance abuse! and mental illness! and suicide! Forget that many, many people are exciting bipolar sex-and-drug addicts who die young without writing a Goddamned thing, because they were too busy with the s! and e! and sa! and mi! and s! to do #1 and #2.

I hate to break this to you, but writer--real writers, who actually write stuff--have boring lives. The Hemingways are the exception. Let's put it this way: I used to work for a publishing house that produced young adult biographies of notable people, and one of the editors hated having to do books about writers. Why? The life stories of most writers are painfully dull. They sit in a chair (#1) and apply themselves to writing (#2) instead of going off and doing crazy things.

Writers write. And that is the sad, sad, boring, unpopular truth.