I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get permission to live the life you want.
You might have been thinking about this, too, if you’re a writer, or if you merely write but you’re waiting on someone else’s permission to actually call yourself a writer. And you have been, haven’t you? Writers, real writers, are surely arcane mystical creatures who live lives very different from yours and mine, who subsist only on the rarefied air they breathe and on the sunlight that shines down in dusty shafts to illuminate their current manuscript as they effortlessly lay down word after elegant word onto the page. That’s not you. You have a day job, a messy kitchen, a thousand little distractions anchoring you down to the all too real world around you. You may write, sure, and you may even suspect you might be good at it, but surely, you’re not a writer.
Even if that’s the first word that pops into your head when someone asks, “What do you do?” Even if that’s what you secretly call yourself when you picture the life you want to be living. It’s not a word you can say out loud.
Say it out loud. And, just maybe, live it out loud.
This is becoming a more concrete and less theoretical concern for me, lately. I lost my day job about a month ago. I’d been working as a web developer, and I just last week had a fairly promising interview for another such position at a different company, and if they offer me the job, I know I should take it, I know I shouldn’t turn down a regular paycheck and health insurance, I know I’d be crazy to do that, especially in this economy and et cetera and et cetera and et cetera, but –
– My heart isn’t in it. It’s not what I really want to be doing with my life. This is what I want to be doing, this, right here, laying down the words and getting my voice inside your head. Telling you stories that will leave you a little off-balance and leave you looking at the world a little differently.
I don’t honestly . . . have to have a day job. I don’t. If I could tighten my belt a little, I could probably go for a year without having to get another job. That would be a nice long chunk of time to spend writing, editing, promoting. Getting my work out there. But it would be a scary, uncertain, unusual thing to do.
I keep wanting to talk to friends, to family, get their advice, but — it all comes back to that same old problem I outlined above. I don’t want advice. I just want permission.
When we’re children, we think that once we’re adults, man, that’s gonna be amazing — no one will be able to tell us what to do! But sometimes, not having someone to tell you what to do is paralyzing. Terrifying. I just want someone to tell me, “yes, it’s okay. You’re allowed. This is a chance you’re allowed to take.”
I don’t know for sure what I’m going to do, yet. I’ll let you know when I reach something like a decision. But for now, if you’re looking for a little bit of permission of your own, if you want to be able to really call yourself a writer, and you still feel like that’s not a label you have the authority to give to yourself, you’ve been waiting for a publisher or an editor or an agent or someone to come along and tell you that, yes, you are one of the special chosen ones — I want to do this much for you, at least:
I want you to print this out, cut out this certificate and hang it on your wall:
P O E T I C L I C E N S E
This document hereby certifies that the undersigned,
is a bona fide, fully-qualified, certified
W R I T E R
and is hereby entitled to time for solitude, time to daydream, time to research, and time to sit down and DO THE WORK until words appear in perfect order, characters speak clearly and distinctly in their own voices, and plots run smoothly like delicate clockwork.
This certificate permits the WRITER AND/OR AUTHOR to do as they see fit in order to make the words happen, and to ignore with impunity any criticisms from sneering naysayers who aren’t really doing anything that impressive with their own lives anyway.
There. Looks pretty good. And it’s just as legit as any other form of external validation you may have been looking for anway. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to put one of those on my refrigerator.
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