Yesterday I had a brief but memorable exchange with a writer. Over the past few weeks I’ve been recruiting stories for the Cool But As Yet Unnamed Project for SBNation. I’ve spent nearly every day talking writing, writing about writing, batting ideas back and forth, sharing ideas and all that stuff that we, as writers, do when we get together. Talking craft to each other is one way many of us prepare to enter the mines of our work, taking the last deep breaths at the surface before going down. The experience has been exhilarating.
In this instance, almost without thinking I ended my exchange “Thanks for being a writer.” I meant it, because writing is my life and has shaped my world, utterly and entirely. As someone who decided to become a writer nearly forty years ago and has done that exclusively for two decades, I understand what being a writer entails. People who do not write don’t.
Most writers I know realize that although many people imagine they would like to write, few have any idea what that reality of that is like, that 99% of writing is ambiguous and often done alone even when surrounded by others. I am talking about all the repeat trips down to the metaphorical basement, closing the door and spending hours listening to your own words in the dark, trying to find the ones that matter and make a difference, the few that let you look yourself in the mirror when you are done and know you’ve gotten to something that somehow didn’t exist before. Only those of us who really do it know what that requires, and I’m not even going to get into the real life issues of trying to write for a living. Just ask our friends and families about that.
Now there are many difficult jobs in this world - some of which I’ve done - and not to overstate the fact, but even when it looks as if it is, writing is not easy. That is why there are so many more people who “want to write” than those that do.
I think this explains why I was so affected when the writer responded to my expression of gratitude by writing, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever emailed me,” which was about the nicest thing anyone has ever e-mailed me. We might be praised us for a particular story or a book or a line or a phrase or a poem, or criticized for the same - or, worst of all, ignored – but rarely are we extended an appreciation for the vocation itself, for simply devotion to the craft we cannot do without.
So thanks for being a writer.
[Writers: for more about the SB Nation project see my previous blog post "Help Wanted," or "About the SB Nation Project" page on my website, http://www.glennstout.net]/