By Aelya Solman
So, you want to be a writer. If you express that sentiment through ink and paper or by typing it out, you’re already six words into the whole ordeal. I want to be a writer. Maybe you’re sitting in a coffee shop or at home in front of a window or in a cubicle at work. The coffee shop is important because remember that no one ever wrote anything before the advent of complicated caffeinated drinks. Does it matter where you are?
You’re writing. Okay, this is getting boring. The coffee shop quip was clever though. You need to say something. But what? Maybe you say something that is a result of your imagination. You write of people and animals that do not actually exist. Or maybe they do - maybe these people and animals are fragments of your own self, pieced together to create something new that allows you to talk about yourself without giving it away. This is good. This is exciting. Look at those characters. Look at their trials and tribulations. You read everything over with a sense of ownership, pride, love, and criticism, not unlike those of parents. How many words now? More than a hundred, two hundred, four or five hundred. It’s happening. You are writing.
But, what of the other writing? Can writing, and in turn writers, be constricted to one definition? You think of the other writing. The caption contests you enter and sometimes (but not often) win. Advertisements on the insides of bus shelters, filmy from cobwebs. The jobs you lined up as a result of your Technical Writing minor. There it is again. Writing.
But what’s so technical about this writing that isn’t as meticulous and painstaking as any other writing? You wonder what Hemingway would have done had he worked for a pharmaceutical company writing medical labels. He would have still risen with the sun and worked for a set number of hours without interruption. He still would have raised a bottle or a glass to his lips - actually, no, just a bottle - and drank with terrifying ease and speed. The son of a bitch would have found a way to be cocky about his medical labels too.
Wait a second. Seriously? Hemingway? You couldn’t have found someone else? He’s not the only one. You think of advice given to struggling writers by authors. Think of the Russians. Who was that guy that wrote The Overcoat? Gogol. Listen to Gogol. Men and women who wake up before the rest of the world, pick at their brains, and spit out words that because of how they have been arranged, make sense and are often beautiful. Joan Didion Margaret Atwood. But their words are not always beautiful, sometimes they merely tell us things we should know. F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever. Necessities for us becoming well-rounded, informed individuals. Miriam Toews, Jhumpa Lahiri. Write about the war, the First, the Second, the undocumented ones in hot countries, the one you fought in your heart for someone whose name you’ll forget before you’re 40. Write about the codeine content of this medication. Write about the woes of gas prices in a caption no longer than five words.
Shit, how many words is this? You feel it’s getting boring. You should engage the reader. They want variety? Give it to them. Create conflict. Kill that character off in a way that is so heartbreakingly graceful your reader will love you and hate you in between taking sharp, deep breaths of air. Create fear, write about side effects and the possibility of death. Keep this away from your children. Only do this once a day. Whatever it is you do, keep them in your grasp. Tighten your grip in a firm, but gentle way. Make them feel as though they are ultimately in control when they actually aren’t. I can put this down at any time, they say. But they don’t. They stay ‘til the character is buried. They stay, and will often come back to refresh their memory, and that is what you want.
Several hundred words now. This writing thing is easier than you remember. Is it though? How do you end it? Even if it’s “technical” writing or fiction or a haiku scribbled on a napkin while you wait for your train, it has to come to an end. But how? The struggle to finish something properly, to do it justice in its resolution, is eternal and not limited to writing at all. When they leave your writing, they should remember the lessons you have taught them. But you worry about just that- the lessons. Who will listen, and to what? The glassy crunch of sand weighs in your mouth; you hoped to spit out diamonds instead. They should remember most of what you have said to them because they will not remember it all the first time.
They are just like you, remember, except now you are the one speaking and finally someone is listening. Yes, despite everything, they are listening. Maybe they will come back, maybe not. Whatever it is though, they should remember it in your voice. Be it the voice of a cold unidentifiable tongue reciting pharmaceutical fact, of ivory salesmen in the heart of the jungle, or of love. Whatever it is, it has to be yours.