Last week, a writer-friend whom I greatly respect told me I was ‘dedicated’ to my writing. Embarrassed, I brushed her compliment aside. But later I had to accept that what she said was partially true – at least in the context of my own life. I am now more dedicated to my writing than ever. So the saying goes: ‘If you want to be a writer, write.’ I never really understood that until this past year. Until then I had taken it very literally: ‘If I write, I might be able to become a writer,’ I thought.
Nobody becomes a writer without writing. But there’s an extra dimension to the call that I now understand. It’s about making writing a priority. Until a year ago I prioritised non-writing work over writing work (because I knew there was a buck in the former and this was unlikely in the latter). Verily my energies got sucked into the vortex that was ‘not writing’. The only aspect of my life not drained from this choice was my bank account. Professionally speaking, writing was my primary desire, but I put it into the appendices of my life.
Earning money is obviously a hurdle for many pursing writing as a priority. But that can be said of all the arts. History documents countless artisans and wordsmiths who have focused their efforts on their craft, but their income came from somewhere else. True, it is a privilege to be able to do this, and if you’re reading this with any interest, you’re most likely to be living in a first world economy. This means that you too may be able to follow your heart.
We all have to juggle the income situation. And this was certainly a factor in my procrastination. Eventually I realised that the one good thing about those years of toiling in an office was that it paid. I could now make good on that. I devised a hypothetical budget that enabled me to understand the consequences of not earning full-time. I knew what changes I had to make to allow writing as my number one professional priority and I set myself to it.
For me, the difference between just writing and prioritising writing is huge. I’ve given myself time to pursue more pitches. I’ve allowed myself time to study my craft. I’m now more able to chip away at my work. I have more time to research and write my stories. I read far more. I write far more. And in my writerly travels I’ve met lots of kindred spirits – people who also love reading and writing. They have made my life all the richer.
Of course I am not yet the writer that I’d like to be, but I am certainly trying, and trying feels good. As a septuagenarian friend of mine would say, ‘It feels good within yourself.’
The past week has reminded me how short life is. It goes by far too quickly. The older I get, the faster it goes. The older I get, the more I wish I’d had more belief in myself as a youngster and pursued what I’d always wanted: to tinker with words and ideas daily. I envy and admire those of you in your early twenties pursuing your writing careers. How much richer your lives will be as consequence. I do recognise that my years in an office helped fund my first year out of it. Still, I will always regret having dilly-dallied for too long. I may be ‘dedicated’ now, but I’m merely trying to catch up on the years already lost.
So I join in the chorus: if you want to write, write. If it’s really what you want to do, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Future of Long Form will resume normal (ie, no sot philosophical) programming next week.