“Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer.” -Kurt Vonnegut
With all of the great books out there, there’s no doubt that talent is pretty common but I guess what’s more rare is whether or not people are ready and willing to live the life of a writer.
When I think of the life of a writer I think of Anne Lamott’s description of the writer’s life in her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She’s very honest about the realities of being a writer, which I love. She warns readers that writing will not make you happier or make your life better. She advises aspiring writers not to write for anything else except for the love of writing itself. Not for fame, money or recognition. She recounts the emotional breakdowns a writer will face, along with the inevitable self-doubt, jealousy and perfectionism. She says that writing takes a lot of giving, every time. This can be hard to open yourself up like this, to explore those hidden corners, to take a closer look.
When I think of the writer’s life I think of a life that’s deeply introspective, observant, sometimes lonely and isolating, highly emotional and at times demanding but deeply rewarding. I’ve come to realize by winning NaNoWriMo this year that it’s not only about writing a great novel but also about enduring throughout the writing process. It’s about picking up your tools and starting again when you finish one project and begin another one. It’s realizing that your journey will contain moments of self-doubt, bouts of jealousy toward other writers and painful or surprising revelations about yourself and other people.
This is what this quote means to me. That there’s lots of talented writers out there but that there are even fewer that can endure the life of the writer or stick to it when they realize what the life of a writer is like. Anne Lamott recounted instances in her writing classes where her students would approach writing with the wrong mindset, asking how to find an agent and how to publish a book rather than realizing that they have to finish the book first. I think in our eagerness and excitement, some of us who like to write jump ahead of ourselves and forget to think of it step-by-step, neglecting to be honest with ourselves and think about the reasons why we write. I had this moment of self-reflection myself this year after reading Anne Lamott’s book and by going through the process of writing 50,000+ words, I’ve come to get a taste of what the writing life entails. I’ve always written but never with that much speed or daily commitment.
When people truly set out to write and finish something, they realize it’s more difficult than they first thought. E.L. Konigsburg says it’s the act of finishing that distinguishes a writer from a person of talent. You can have the talent but ultimately lack the drive.
“Finish. The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish. Don’t talk about doing it. Do it. Finish.” -E.L. Konigsburg
I’m still learning and still working on my novel but I’m determined to finish it, either by the end of December or by the end of January. I know that, even if I never share it with anyone or publish it, that at least I can say I accomplished a task I once thought was too big for me and say I’m proud of it.