The Hate/Hate Relationship

My relationship with writing is a lot like the one I used to have with women:

I hate it sometimes, and it hates me all the time.
But I still spend most of my time trying to figure it out.

When I’m writing, I realize that most people won’t get the zany pop culture references, the backhanded shots at American institutions, or the fact that almost all of my stories, in even the subtlest of ways, are based on my need to be self-deprecating on a daily basis.

What I hate about writing is that I can always be better. There’s no realistic measurement of success. Want to be a New York Times Best-Seller? Well, there’s always the James Frey or Jonah Lehrer approach.

Where’s the honesty gauge?

I’m telling you that the gauge is broken, because it’s actually not in the competitive sense of units sold, or in the ability to buy a boat, but in the commitment to creating something real. Real lasts, awards don’t… And there’s always a new list.

Real is Real

If you’re a no-talent hack espousing the virtues of your massive ballpoint pen size, I’m probably going to laugh your ink off the page.

But if you’re the greatest of our time and you’re living and working like it, you’re dangerous, and you’re probably going to succeed without anyone’s help. Writing is always here. It’s like those love/hate commercials by New Balance for runners: Nobody REALLY understands running except runners. No one understands writing except writers.

The New York Times Bestseller List.

A Pulitzer Prize.

Rolling Stone asked Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) to describe what it feels like to be in the middle of a heated guitar solo on stage and he replied: “It’s like trying to describe the pyramids to someone who has never seen them before.”

That’s where you end up when you’re a writer, and someone is asking you: “Why aren’t you published?” How can I explain it really? “Well, I put something into the world that wasn’t there when I got here. In a world of phonies, I made something real.”

We have the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on every person who ever reads any piece by us, good or bad. We change the world daily, but very few of us will achieve the success of a Tolkien or Rowling.

It is our words that immortalize us.

I have a dream of being on the subway, listening to my iPod or goofing off with friends, when I catch someone reading something I wrote. In that dream, I get up, rip it out of their hands, sign it, give it back to them and hop off the train like a bandit. In this dream, I do it to every reader I find (they’re not many, even in my dreams).

Silly and juvenile, but my dream and mine alone. Is that true success or egotism? Maybe it’s just craziness.

So, I suppose this is the part of the blog where I tell you how I get around this, and why I keep writing despite the very abusive relationship between us?

Muhammad Ali.

“The Greatest” himself is the answer. I’m not sure how many people believed him when he said he was “the greatest” but if I was another boxer I would have been pissed. Not necessarily because I believed him, but because I didn’t have the balls to say it first. Ali BELIEVED it. Sure, he had the talent to back up 99% of his claims, but he LIVED it before anyone else did.


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