Today is a more melancholy post. I’ll make it about writing, because as you are about to see, that’s what writers do.
There is a movie out there called “The Whole Wide World” it is about pulp writing legend Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and half a dozen other characters who probably deserve as much attention as the iconic sullen-eyed Cimmerian, who tread the jeweled thrones of the Hyborian age beneath his sandaled feet. In one scene, Bob is telling Novelyne Price, the author and hero of this story about his job as a writer. He tells her about how he’s had lots of jobs, and clerkin’ in a store is about the worst thing a man can do. He goes on to say that when he writes, he’s the boss and the typewriter is the employee. He’s not wrong about that. But it gives an outsider a peek into the mind of a writer for another reason.
I know lots of writers who have been malcontents like this. Maybe myself included. Jacks of all trades but masters of only one: the written word. Many writers have a problem with authority, with foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds. Each has the ability to absorb experiences, pain, emotion, and the human condition, and regurgitate it onto the blank page. You have to have equal parts of order and chaos in some cases. The chaos comes from wading through a world full of people, experiences, pain, and then ordering it together and producing something about it somewhat suitable for others to take in and process themselves.
My own characters are infused with reflections of experiences I have had, snippets of stories others have told me, more information than I know what to do with. So, it all winds up in the stories. Some granular bit, some hint, some big joint of beef. So, when artists are asked the annoying question of “Where do you get your ideas from?” the answer is “everywhere.”
Like any chemical reaction, there are waste products. Sometimes taking in all this information and filtering it results in the by-products of depression, overthinking, anxiety, anti-social behavior, heightened emotions, etc. is the heat, waste material, and grey water of the whole process. That sounds like a horrible experience, doesn’t it? For many, it would probably be worse without an outlet for the creative process. Think of an industrial factory that just burned coal all day, produced smog, and polluted the water without even having electricity, shiny basketball shoes, or crystal glassware to show for it. Having a writerly brain without putting it to some kind of use is like a saw mill that just produces saw dust. Hence the ordered part of the mind.
I have had lots of jobs. Some worse than others. I’ve scrubbed outhouse floors, driven trucks, waded through mosquito infested swamps to pull old fenceposts, sat on my butt in an office for years, sampling every gradient of the emotional spectrum from fear to boredom. I have lived a life. Not always easy at times. Sometimes I have been a lot luckier than I deserve. This all makes it into the stew.
It isn’t always obvious how. In this world, here is a place I get to decide how and what to deal with. Every frustration, every victory, how it all felt, and the consequences of decisions…and even sometimes how they might have been handled differently. If I am not destined to have adventure or excitement, that doesn’t have to be true for my characters. And if I am not anywhere near living a comfortable life, maybe they deserve one…eventually. So much of life is getting from point A to point Z. The order is unimportant.
Life is like a story. We are the authors of our stories too. We are given the plot, the characters, the conflict, and it is up to us to decide what to do with it all. Do we want a happy ending or a sad one? Robert E. Howard lived a tumultuous life and died young. Unlike Conan, he wasn’t strong enough to conquer his demons. The point I’m laboring to make is that everything is a choice. We have a choice of how we want to solve our problems, who we ask for help, and how we overcome our obstacles. This is why real life is so much better than fiction. And sometimes scarier. Definitely weirder.
My advice, if you choose not to take things personally, make it about the writing. It is happy to consume anything you can give it. Pain, love, loss, exuberance, contentment, nostalgia, madness…all of it. Let the writing feed and keep going.