Today I would like to touch on the imaginative expression a former “writer” neighbor had regarding writing. As many writers know, writing is as much a form of self-deprecation and rejection as it is literary creativity. But, there are those who find small loop holes that can get them through life, while the rest of us turn those people into some of the best antagonists the world has seen in print.
Read, enjoy, and let me know what you think about my neighbor’s thoughts on writing and the writing process. In two sentences he challenged my thinking.
To set the stage:
I was living in a 19th-century brownstone off Loring Park in Minneapolis, MN. Dunn Bros coffee, my hotspot, was outside my window. Our building had an open stairway up the middle that hit every floor, and the 6 apartments on each floor shared a large porch split by the stairs. I lived in this building several years and what I enjoyed most was how social everyone was. Although, in my late 20s/early 30s I happened to be the grandpa of this mostly college-aged crowd. Seriously, I would have neighbors come by for advice on how-to-live type stuff – money, credit, how to get a job, interview for a job, boyfriend/girlfriend problems, etc.
Anyway, an interesting guy moved in on my floor. I’ll give you a quick story to describe him. I was out writing on the porch one day when he came by. Someone had been playing a piano every afternoon from his apartment, so I asked if it was him. He said, “Yes, I’ve only been playing like 6-months, but I love it. It’s so meditative for me. I’m probably not any good, but I love to play.” Well, I thought it was exceptional, something a professional would play. I’d find out later, that he’d never touched a piano. It was his brother. The second story, same time, I had a pizza delivered while I was talking to him. He was looking at me like a whimpering dog, so I asked, “Would you like some?” He said, “Sure, yeah. Say, you got the pizza, I’ll get the plates.” He ran back to his apartment and grabbed a few paper plates, and then came back. I grabbed a piece, finished what I was writing while we talked. After about 15 minutes I ate my piece, reached in for another and realized the rest of my large pizza was gone. He’d eaten everything! I politely called him out, and he said, “Oh, you asked if I wanted some of your pizza. I thought you were done when you took one piece. You didn’t say you were only offering me a single piece. I mean I did contribute the plates.”
So, yeah. This is that guy. And he spent the next year shoving his way into every conversation that occurred in the building. While he supplied me with a wealth of fun stories and interesting characters, he said two things to me that while I felt were a bit off-putting, they were also interesting enough for me to play with in my head over the years.
“I only write when I’m inspired”
Our conversation went on to writing, which, of course, he was a profound writer of the highest degree. When he told me he wrote, I put aside my irritation at him eating my pizza to talk to him about writing. He went on and on about how he loved to write, and like playing the piano was a way to relax and find himself again. He mentioned that he would see me outside writing every day. At the time I had been laid off from my job, and my part-time writing had become full time, although I was focusing on my own novels rather than building an income from writing. I told him that it was hard, but I would get up in the morning, get the kids to school and write all day before getting the kids again. Then I would write at night.
He said, “Wow, how do you stay inspired enough to write that much.”
I laughed, “Inspired? I’m rarely inspired to write. I do it because I love it and can’t imagine not writing.”
He seemed to think about this for a minute. Then said, “I only write when I’m inspired. It’s when I write my best, and I don’t believe in writing shit.”
Okay, so I didn’t have much to say since he really was directing his point across that if you are not inspired you are writing shit. Which meant I was writing shit about 99% of the time. That’s fine. So I veered the subject.
“No thanks, I refuse to pimp out my work.”
Onto quote number two. When I veered our conversation I asked him what he wrote about. Of course, short stories, poetry… He was a creative artist who focused on shorter pieces. Sure, we’ve been there. I love to go back to short stuff to get myself motivated and open my creative writing. Then I asked the inevitable question that comes up anytime two or more writers serendipitously get together. “Are you published anywhere?”
I didn’t mean the question as pretentious or embarrassing. What writer hasn’t asked another writer this question before? It’s a good way to find out who you are talking to. But instead of other people who simply say “no” or tell me laughable stories of rejection which we all have, he took another route.
“No man. I wouldn’t pimp out my work. That’s disgusting. I get sick anytime I think of a writer pimping out their work for money. Writing is something from the heart. It would be like pimping out your girlfriend. Gross.” He, of course, went on, but I can’t remember much beyond this point.
So, here I am with these two great pieces of commentary on writing:
“I only write when I’m inspired.” and “I wouldn’t pimp out my work.”
Both of these expressions are fun to think about. The first, I know, is that if I only wrote when I was inspired I would write almost nothing, which in turn would make my writing miserable since I hadn’t been writing – and improving – daily. I would hate what I wrote, and likely not write again – ever!
Secondly, the “pimping your work” comment I thought was a little more interesting. First, it was a creative way of saying he prefers to keep his writing personal. Maybe aggressive and offensive, but still creative. Second, he did show me that he was highly sensitive and either really wasn’t a writer or this was his justification to call himself a writer without having to prove his abilities to a curious conversationalist. Or, it meant, that if a writer, this was his way of saying “I’m an amazing writer, and I have a reason why I am not published.” Now, to set things straight, you can be a great writer and not be published for many reasons: by choice, a string of bad luck, new, never submitted yet, or love to play the role of rejection as many of us writers do. But, no, I believe what my neighbor found was a loophole. A way of calling himself a writer, with a firm belief that he doesn’t pimp his work, in turn, he must have a greater conviction to be a writer than anyone else. And if you never try, then you never fail. So, there is no one to dispel your belief. That is my take. And think, had he just said, “no” or “I don’t know if I am interested in being published.” I may have never thought on his comment again.
My reason for writing about my former neighbor is for several reasons. One, remember to use these opportunities to build great character traits for your books, scripts, stories… Two, just because someone says something surprising or irritating doesn’t mean you can’t use those comments to envision your own work. It could be meditating, kind of like playing the piano or writing when inspired. And three, this was a great opportunity for me to break down this person’s psyche, inner thoughts, and try to see the world from his perspective.