by Leonard Bishop
Don’t quit your present employer to become a professional writer until you have learned how to be alone. It is not the lack of talent or skill that stops someone from succeeding as a professional writer. Talent can be faked and skill is an acquired ability. A dominant preventative is the inability of the writer to be alone for long stretches of time.
Everyone who wants to become a professional writer believes they can achieve this career if only they had enough time for their writing. If they could only get out from under the pressure of their employment, they could make it. It isn’t only the 40 hours of work they have to do, it is also the after-effects of their job. The winding down, the fatigue, the additional responsibilities that stop them. The need for a family and social life. This is a complaint, but it is not the reality.
The moment you consciously decide upon the career of being a writer you immediately fix yourself into a condition of futility. There are already enough writers in the world. One more is not an important addition. Anything you want to write has already been written and too much of it is better than anything you will ever write. The writer is not encouraged, not supported, not accredited with a sense of responsibility while he is unpublished. He’s just another loser diving into the vast ocean of failure.
And when, after years of learning his craft, he does get published, what happens? It takes the general public about three days to read a novel some writer has taken two or three years to write. There may be accolades and money for the writer whose novel becomes popular. But in a few months that popular novel is forgotten. And for the writer whose novel does not become popular, there are no accolades or money. Few people have heard of what he has written. But popular or anonymous, the writer has to write another novel because that is his profession.
Most of the writer’s day is lived in a social vacuum. He cannot have other people around when he is writing. People–a beloved spouse, an adored child, a worshiped God–are distractions. Their presence in his writing time become restraints on his freedom to plunge into depth or rush into height. They rattle the stability of his concentration. They cloud his search for the dramatic instant of character and conflict.
The writer must always be alone, if he is to write. And in that condition of ” aloneness” he struggles against an unconquerable enemy–his hidden Self. It is a Self he can avoid only by partaking in the entertainments and diversions of society. As non-writer people do. But when he is alone and writing for long stretches of time, that Enemy-Self is always there, waiting to defeat him. To stop him from writing.
Within those hours of aloneness. There is a rampant fantasy and fear. All the doubts he feels about himself are thrust into his consciousness, with impact. He returns to his past–as he writes to fulfill his future. His present is the idea. But his past is the content. And there is always more greed than generosity, more shame than self-appreciation. He has lied, abused, deceived, betrayed, cheated many more people than have been that corrupt to him. He is without his glittering disguises. He is alone.
He moans in pain about the success of other writers he knows are inferior to himself. He sweats with an inner-humiliation for believing that so many other writers are more competent and luckier than he is. Even as he writes to enrich his life–he knows he is wasting his life. Where are all of the bestsellers he knew he was to write? Where are the illustrious prizes he believed he would win? Where are the world shaking profundities he aspired to create? Where is the universal recognition?
Only the professional writer who has been writing for years is able to withstand the maddening pressure that comes from the enemy within his Self. The professional writer cannot ever defeat that enemy. He can merely develop protective insulations. So the Enemy-Self cannot stop his writing. These insulations are comprised of cashmere illusions and angora hypes. ” This novel is the big one, the megabuck getter, the barn burner!” This hype is an enemy-proof wrapping cocooned about his ego. The source of these hypes of are often unreasonable hopes and irrational faith. He creates them to occupy his aloneness.
But it takes years of apprenticeship-writing to live alone with yourself before you can devise these insulations. You become a professional writer, gradually. By learning how to be alone, one part of the day at a time. By sneaking some writing in on your lunch hour. By writing after your employment day is over. By controlling your after-work time and writing one, two hours an evening. Or before going to work. Day after day becoming more and more familiar with the Enemy-Self–so you can learn all the tactics, ploys and stratagems it uses against you.
And while you are learning to live in aloneness, you are also writing. Giving yourself evidence of talent, skill, and achievement. Until you can handle despair, depression, dilemma, and the threatening defeats you feel when you are alone–for long periods of time. Then when you can create an invulnerable inner-life and not ruin or disrupt the lives of others by your being a professional writer– then quit your job and take your chances. There is still room in the world for your great size.
© 2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published January 19, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)