Because I think I have something to say. – writer, Wonderful Town
I have nothing to say and I’m saying it. – John Cage
This summer I spent some time on a beach watching surfers and people learning to surf. Individuals and families would wade out into the waves with boards. They were happy to be out there, happy to be engaging in the activity just for the activity. The novices were happy to be learning something new, but I don’t imagine any of them were thinking, “I’ll do this professionally” or “I have something to show people (like that guy on the beach over there).”
I thought about the number of people who “want to be writers.” They ask, “How can I be a writer.” It’s an odd question because the answer is simple. Write. If you write, you’re a writer. But that’s not what they’re saying. They want something else. They want to be published or read or known or admired or . . .
I doubt anyone goes to the surf school instructor and asks, “How can I make a living at this?” or “How can I become known/famous/the equivalent of being a “published” surfer”? The question doesn’t even make sense.
If people ask, “How can I be a better writer?” that’s something the right guide or teacher can help them with. But first, there needs to be the desire for the activity itself. You have to want to spend your mornings willing to get up early, get your gear together, and get out the door (metaphorically speaking). You have to be willing to get wet and tossed around and be tired and, frankly, to not have left a trace in the ocean when you’re finished.
Okay, maybe a better comparison is to my presence on the beach. I’m a walker not a surfer. And why was I walking the beach at 6 in the morning? Because it’s a good career move? Because I was driven to be there? Because I had something to say? No. I was there because I thought it would be interesting. Because it makes me feel good. Because I’ve never regretted going for a walk. I was there because I was bored waiting for my family to wake up. Because I thought I might see something – like surfers. I was there because I was exploring. I didn’t expect to find a treasure chest. I was there because it made me feel aware, alive, healthier, in short, good.
Maybe this should be my question when someone asks the equivalent of whether they have “what it takes” to be a writer? Do you like doing an activity for the activity’s sake? Surfing? Walking? If not . . . then probably not.