Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Matthew McConaughey said on a commercial for Lincoln motor cars, “Don’t look for what you want to do. Find out all of the things that you don’t want to do, and you’ll find your way.” I’ll take my philosophy where I can find it. When I quote someone, I don’t do it before the fact. I do it after I have seen what they have said is true, or at least resonant with me personally, through experience.
Success is the great enemy of a writer. If a writer finds something that works, and makes him popular, he will be blocked from doing anything great. Writing is provoked by an irritant. You have to be in pain to want to bother with all of the otherwise uncompensated work of writing. Your pain is your ignorance. Your joy comes when your understanding ends that ignorance forever. Writing frees you, and then you can negotiate life in a sure-footed manner, actually looking forward to the next irritating obstruction that will provoke you to write.
Writing is not a discipline. You just do it. At first, I saw it as an aid to me, adjunct to my life. Now it is my life itself. Norman Mailer said that the professional writer is impure — constantly inducing labor and forcing the words out. He saw the artistic writer as more natural, writing only when properly inspired. This isn’t my experience. I think Mailer wrote those words when he was tired, and motivated by something other than being a writer. He had a brand to maintain, a reputation to preserve and try to expand, and probably substantial financial responsibilities. I find all of those considerations just too complicated. I simply write. Every day. All the time. I write when I am not at the keyboard. I write when I am awake and when I sleep. I am not spending my time thinking about whether something is said in an interesting way, or is beautifully expressed. Or profound or unique. I just try to understand everything. I examine my life as per Socrates. I dispose of things a la McConaughey. I write therefore I am.
I knew a fool who was an unsuccessful professional writer. He got up every morning and wrote for a specific amount of time — four hours — at his meticulously organized desk. He kept his inane and mediocre observations in big white binders. Unsurprisingly, he often didn’t do his writing. He neglected it in the same way he ignored the stationary bike that he always planned to exercise on after his (not so) daily writing.
He was a misguided hack. Writing was a means to an end for him, he didn’t love it all. If you love writing, it will reward you in all kinds of ways, but it is unwise to demand what bounty it will deliver to you.
Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas