Access a Writer’s Life, Even If You Don’t Write

I have revered writers since the day I learned to read. I have wanted to live a writer’s life almost as long.

In my teens and early 20’s, I mimicked what I thought of as a writer’s life. That life featured a typewriter or legal pad in front of me; towering stacks of books on all sides, and an intravenous drip of Diet Coke to power me through long nights and weekends of university essays.

In my 30’s and early 40’s, I believed that a writer required a beautiful, inspiring work space. One with a view of trees and water would be ideal. Even better would be a thatched roof cottage by the sea in Wales where said writer could labour for hours before strolling to the local pub for a simple dinner of crusty bread and hearty stew served by the gruff yet kindly publican.

I realized that something was amiss after I owned the beautiful work space, had six books published, and was still longing for a writer’s life.

For many years, I was convinced that the something missing was a ‘serious’ book idea. All of my writing has been in the field of education. Because that kind of writing comes easily to me, I don’t always value it. Real writers, in my mind, are writing literary non-fiction or novels.

There are times when I’m still convinced that another book is what is missing for me. I’m good at tormenting myself with the question of will I or won’t I? And if I do, what book would make me feel like a real writer?

Fortunately, there are also times when the mist clears. At those times, I can acknowledge that a writer’s life actually has little to do with writing and even less with publication.

I’ve come up with six characteristics of a writer’s life, organized in the form of a handy dandy acronym. (I know… but acronyms are helpful aids for sometimes flagging memories.)

Living a Writer’s Life Means …

Awareness

A writer lives close to her experience. She notices (my word of the year), observes and listens. Because a writer pays attention, she is able to think and feel more deeply than people who live according to long-established patterns and unquestioned beliefs. And while going deep means that the tough times are tougher, it is also true that there are many more opportunities to be enchanted and to write in ways that share the enchantment:

 “Champagne has the taste of an apple peeled with a steel knife.”  Aldous Huxley

Curiosity

Curiosity is a companion to awareness. Curiosity provides us with the raw material we need in order to go deeper and create, whether our creation is a poem or a dish we haven’t prepared before. When we are curious and aware, we allow ourselves to be surprised. And as Bill Bryson says in A Short History of Nearly Everything,

“We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?”

Challenge

It is so important that we keep on learning, that we see ourselves growing and changing. To do otherwise, to feel finished and complacent, is to be dead long before we close our eyes for the last time.

Challenge is the characteristic of a writer’s life that, for me, has me thinking that I want to write another book. I find the experience of challenge sharpest when there is a product I am working toward achieving.

Ernest Hemingway spoke to this key element of a writer’s life when he wrote,

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Energy

I’ve used the word ‘energy’, but ‘enthusiasm’ would work, as would ‘exuberance.’ The idea is to live with the kind of passion and tenacity that keeps writers labouring for years without acknowledgment, simply because they have something they need to say.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes,

“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.”

Solitude

Writers must be willing to disconnect from the world’s relentless babble; to slow time and go inside to the source of imagination and wisdom. Virginia Woolf speaks of solitude’s importance for all women in To the Lighthouse:

“For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of–to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others…and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

Simplicity

When writing fiction, simplicity is an economy of words, the fewest and most appropriate words to describe a character or set a scene. In nonfiction, simplicity is digging for and bringing clarity to the kernel of an idea. As Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

In a writer’s life, when you don’t write, simplicity may be nothing more than

“…going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Instructions for Living a Writer’s Life

My favourite quotation for a writer’s life comes from poet Mary Oliver. In a poem called ‘Sometimes’, Oliver wrote

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

I do think that “tell about it” matters. As Emile Zola said, “I am here to live out loud.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean through the written word.  Maybe for you it is a conversation with a friend, a painting, or a dance. Or maybe it is the written word–an email, a blog post, an essay, poem, book or play. Regardless of the form you choose, each of us can live a writer’s life.  I think we owe it to ourselves and the world to do just that.

What do you think of my list? Are all of my characteristics of a writer’s life necessary? Are there any that I need to add? I believe that the characteristics of a writer’s life are also the essential characteristics of any artist’s life, no matter the form. Do you agree? 

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52 comments

  1. Hi Karen,

    Beautiful post. I wholeheartedly agree with the above; also the statement that this speaks to all forms of artistry – not just writing.
    When I was quite young, I thought I was going to be a writer and/or a visual artist when I grew up. Then I fell in love with science during Grade 10 Biology. Ever practical, I decided science would be better for stocking my fridge and paying my rent, so I took that path instead. Thinking I could write and draw/paint in my spare time – hah! (Well, actually I did keep up with writing in the form of journalling and I became passionate about certain crafts.) As an adult, I dreamed from time to time about becoming a columnist, and now I have my blog and that is scratching this itch fine. And I’m back to painting as well. So yeah, am living my writer’s life and still doing the science gig as well. Yay me, for living the Renaissance Woman life 😉
    Thanks Karen.

    Deb

    1. You are indeed a Renaissance woman, Deb. Yay you for sure! It will be interesting for you to see how your priorities shift and change after you are eventually retired. Maybe a columnist is still in the works!

  2. They are an interesting combination Karen – I’m not sure I’d have a lot of them – but then I’ve never felt the urge to write a novel or anything of any length and depth. I am happily tootling away on my blog and for that I just need time, headspace and (hopefully) an audience. I often admire writers who have slaved away for years and sometimes decades waiting to have someone take the time to discover them – many have died with their works never seeing the light of publication. I guess Amazon and e-books at least give us that little bit of an audience.
    Maybe the great Canadian novel is stewing away in the back of your mind at this very moment just waiting for you to notice it and start writing – I hope you Access it and get the opportunity to share it with the world. In the meantime I’m so happy you’ll be sharing your gift with those who stop by my blog to see what’s on offer xx

    1. Thanks, Leanne. I can only imagine that it must be incredibly peaceful to NOT have been bitten by the writing bug. Tootling away on a blog is a perfectly worthy and plenty challenging task for a writer.

  3. Karen, I love all the components of Access, but I’m not sure they are just components for living a writer’s (artist’s) life. I believe Awareness and Curiosity are components for healthy living in general… the mindfulness and continual learning that drives longevity. And I wonder about a component that deals with mastery in some way. Perhaps that is part of Simplicity (finding the simplicity takes mastery), but I do believe there is work to be done to become “good” at any art, including writing.

    All that said, yes, for me it IS about having a book published. I don’t think I’ll call myself a writer until that moment. Even if it’s self published and never read by anyone but my 3 closest friends who I’ll force to read it. While I write for the blog posts, I still tend to call myself a blogger and not a writer. I also don’t feel the need to toil in Solitude day in and day out, or have the Curiosity to craft more and more…so maybe I’m not a Writer (capital w) and never will be. I just write.

    I wrote in my journal this morning the question ….” is getting my book published merely an arrogance that someone would want to hear my thoughts?” Is that my inner critic pushing on the Imposter Syndrome? Yes, I’ve been trying to get back into editing my book… it’s completely drafted. I keep putting it off – I worry about it being bad. I worry about negative feedback. I can feel the conflict within me… and obviously your post sparked it even more!

    So here’s a ponder…. Is a writer a Writer if no-one reads her words?

    1. Hi Pat,
      I agree with you that the Access components fit any life. And that mastery is critical. I do think of challenge, simplicity and energy as the pieces that result in mastery.
      I think you’re selling yourself short on the components of solitude and curiosity. The advantage to solitude is the opportunity to go deep and be reflective. You are super reflective so I’m guessing you have the right amount of alone time (for you). And you are curious, Pat. You may not be curious about everything under the sun (neither am I), but you’re deeply, insatiably curious about the retirement transition, your life in the next 30 years, archetypes etc.
      I hope you’ll get some clarity from your daily early morning pondering, Pat. It’s rough to be feeling the inner conflict you’re going through right now.

    2. Pat – would you like me to read your completed draft? My CV: Former English teacher, current editor/proofreader of Masters/Doctoral level papers, avid reader, avid writer (several WIP), self-published 2 books…I’m totally curious what you are writing about and I’d be happy to give you whatever feedback you are interested in receiving.
      Perhaps a writer is a Writer regardless of if anyone reads her words — if others read her words, does she then become an author?
      Let me know if you’d like a ‘beta-reader’.

      1. Janet, Although I’m terrified to type this as I am horrible with feedback (one of the reasons I think I’m stalled), yes….I’d love a beta reader. I know it needs a ton of editing as I switch from first person to third person all over the place! And I know it probably needs some consolidating as I tend to be verbose. But it would be wonderful to get someone else to tell me what else it needs! Maybe this is the push I need. Thank you. Let’s connect off-blog!

  4. Karen, as I am not, nor do I want to be a writer, I read your “map” for living a writer’s life, and realized that each component could be applied to simply living a good life. Thank you, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    1. Hi Anna,
      I really appreciate that you saw my map as applying to a good life. That’s certainly what I believe too, and what I intended – but didn’t say very clearly. Thanks for writing.

  5. I love this thoughtful journey as you grew as a writer. Me, I stumbled forward, often falling and being inspired by something totally unrelated. Sometimes, my muse dragged me along as I spent hours on the wrong project. I wish my journey had been well-planned and organized.

    BTW, your six characteristics are probably why I never gave up the effort. those are my bucket list.

    1. Hi Jacqui,
      For someone who stumbled her way into a writing career, you sure make stumbling look like a good career plan! You are prolific, and deeply involved in your work. I admire you, Jacqui. When I read in your most recent post of a book that you’ve been working on for ten years, I admire you even more …and know that I am not now and never will be that dedicated to my writing.

  6. I have heard bits and pieces of these thoughts over the last little while. I think that the most important ones relate to perseverance and action. For me, “just do it” is critical. However, I have always loved your picture of a cottage by the sea in Wales. That sounds lovely.

    1. Hi Fran,
      You are making “just do it” really work for you with your memoir writing. Good for you!
      That cottage by the sea in Wales is going to happen someday – if it’s meant to be. I’ve decided to be fatalistic about that particular dream and just see what happens.

  7. Yes, these are characteristics of a writer’s life, Karen, but I would add obsession to my list. This is not necessarily a healthy characteristic, and it’s not compatible with the romantic thatched roof cottage in Wales and the simple (but satisfying) dinner of crusty bread and hearty stew served by the gruff yet kindly publican. No, this would be the characteristic that has my mind searching for new combinations of words, or new topics that must be pursued – unable to rest, even when ordered to do so by a gruff but kindly doctor. Haha! But I love the quote from Mary Oliver and would say to you that you are a ‘real writer.’ And a terrific one, too. And if you decide to write something outside your comfort zone, I am sure it will be a work of high quality.

    1. Hi Molly,
      Oh I know that feeling of being unable to rest, unable to keep the words and topics from running relentlessly through your mind. I share that obsessive quality, Molly, but I sure don’t want it to be a required characteristic of a writer’s life. I want to eradicate that one from my life!!
      Thank you so very much for the compliment about my writing, Molly. You’ve made my day, week, month. It’s even a comment that is contender for making my year!
      I know it sounds disingenuous to say ‘ditto’ but ditto, Molly. I LOVE your writing. You have such a gift for humour.

      1. Thank you, Karen. You’ve made my day, week, month, year! You have not only a talent for writing but I appreciate your attention to grammar, organization, and sentence structure. This makes it a pleasure to read and I can enjoy your content without distractions. There is a lot of creativity that goes into writing but there are practical tools that one needs to employ to make a work that flows and is pleasing to read. You put the effort into your writing that makes it effortless to read.

  8. Hi Karen! With some published books to my name (four self-published and two published by companies), I’m not sure your views on this describe me. Actually, I am one of those people who didn’t have any clue what I wanted to be when “I grew up” and never dreamed of being a writer. Is that shocking??? I suppose that says a lot about me in some ways, but I just let my curiosity and sense of adventure lead me to one thing or another until one day–in my 30s–my husband asked me, “So if you could do anything, what would it be?” Almost impulsively I blurted out, “Be a writer.” True story. I had no classes, no education, and never knew anyone who wrote for a living. But for some reason deep down I knew I could do it. Maybe not that well or that known…but as an avid reader…and yes I was that…I just knew I could do it as well and thought it would be “fun” to try.

    So I began. I did try my hand at a couple of Romance Novels back then…I mean who can’t write one of those in their 30s? Bombed terribly, so I began writing what I knew which was real estate. Then I read Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way and from there I learned to discipline my writing and to just do it–not because I wanted any result (books included) because it was my way to put my thoughts, feelings, emotions and innards on paper and make sense of my world. Doing morning pages ever since I still know that I write because that is my way of making sense of the world. I’m thrilled of course if anyone else finds my words helpful or interesting…but honestly, I’d do it regardless.

    And yes, I did eventually, through synchronicity, find a fairly well-known company wanting to publish my first book and thought I had “arrived.” Hahahahaha. Surprise! I was still me. But I kept writing. I also eventually wrote a novel that I wanted to see if I could do–and I did it! But again, I was still me. Maybe a growing, evolving me…but still me. As so many authors say, the only way to stick with writing is because you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. I believe that for myself. I NEED to write. I know my idea of being a writer doesn’t fit anyone else’s version–and that is perfectly okay with me. But again, I don’t long for the writer’s life. I long for my best version of my life…and I know that includes writing.

    Thank you for the opportunity to “write” that out and be clearer about it for me. And I look forward to reading your novel when it is born. ~Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I appreciate you taking the time to write your thoughts so clearly. I’ve often wondered about your history as a writer and your feelings about the craft. It’s not surprising that you have seamlessly integrated your identity as a writer into your life as a whole. That’s in keeping with your philosophy of rightsizing.
      I’d love to have read the romance novels of your 30’s, Kathy. 🙂

      1. hahaha…as a writer yourself you might understand how very hard it is to throw away your own words. All these years later…yep, over 35+ I have carted those manuscripts around. I have tossed so many other things in my life (yay rightsizing!) but when it comes to certain things I feel an attachment. And no, I haven’t reread them in over 30 years either. Hmmm…now that I’ve “confessed” I might have to pull them out when I return home and see if they are as dreadful as I imagine. Still…my fledglings got me started… ~Kathy

  9. The vision I have in my head of a writer’s life is very seductive. It means a charming house with a beautiful office. It means time alone to think, read, and then write. I’m with you in that it doesn’t mean writing education stuff, but novels, or poetry or biographies. I admit to lusting over the garage studio of Ernest Hemingway in Key West and the beauty of Bramasole in Italy, where I could see myself living the life of Frances Mayes! I think the reason she was so successful is not because of her writing, but because she painted such a vivid description of the lifestyle of a writer. Who wouldn’t want all that amazing food, endless wine and olive orchards for your very own olive oil? And to have your books be instant bestsellers!

    In reality the life of a writer is a lot more about putting your butt in the chair and doing the work. That is the bottom line!

    1. Oh we are so similar in this way as in so many others, Michele. Context has always mattered so much to me. I go on studio tours all of the time, mostly to see the homes and workspaces of artists. I haven’t been to Hemingway’s studio or to Bramasole. I’ll have to put those on my bucket list.
      Butt in the chair –bottom line. I don’t know if that was intentional or a slip, Michele, but either way it was inspired and gave me a good laugh.

      1. Oh, I haven’t been to Bramasole either- I don’t think you can visit it. But the description in Under the Tuscan Sun is very vivid and one of her later books had a lot of pictures of it.
        And it WAS a slip- I am far too tired from moving to be witty! Good catch!

  10. a dream or a reality – me I live the dream(and call myself a writer) but I know that real writers actually put in the hard yards day after day year after year in order to be published… I read once about the Toltec view of an artist – a person living their life creatively wholeheartedly imbuing all the characteristics you mention – that indeed our life lived is an artistic expression . publishing does lend another level of gravitas – and while I like desire even to follow this thread I am not sure I have the bottom on the seat capacity – life beckons me in so many ways – I have to be immersed in it as fully as I can and of course I have this calling to tell about it… a rich post Karen and much food for thought.

    1. Until I read your comment, it hadn’t occurred to me that we have a choice when it comes to writing. We can live the dream or we can live the reality. You’re so right, Sandra, and that option really frees people at our stage of life because we can choose which one we want. Thanks for the insight, Sandra. You’ve given me some food for thought.

  11. Hi Karen, I had never thought of myself as creative or a writer until I met women like yourself who encouraged me to continue my blog. Whilst I may never have a book to write, I can be the author of my life’s experience as I live them. I had always had the vision of a writer in a log cabin, away from it all writing away with a beautiful view to the woods and a crackling fire. At the moment, I cannot feel curious because of personal issues so surprises are few. I do know that this will soon pass. As Pat wrote, awareness and curiosity are also part of a healthy lifestyle. Thank you for another thought provoking post, my friend.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write, Sue, especially at a time when you cannot feel curious. A log cabin away from it all sounds perfect. Hopefully it’s a possibility, if only for a day or two!

  12. Wow, loved this post-Karen…so much to think about and agree with here. Mary Oliver’s poem refines it down to just a small amount of very intense and hard-hitting words, perfectly. I think your list is pretty well complete. I too have dreamed of writing a book one day. I still have my sights set on writing a memoir. I think there is much I could impart to the world having lived through what I have thus far in life never mind all I will no doubt live through before getting said memoir written.
    I do think this list can apply to any of the arts and to living a good life all by itself regardless of whether one wishes to write. As for you writing another book of a different sort than education based I think there is one in there waiting to get out if you dare move beyond your comfort zone and explore where your instincts and dreams lead. I love reading your blog and your use of words, here,

    “It is so important that we keep on learning, that we see ourselves growing and changing. To do otherwise, to feel finished and complacent, is to be dead long before we close our eyes for the last time.”

    make me want to read anything you would choose to write. Perhaps you could write a book about a woman your age with your experiences pursuing and achieving the dreamt of writer’s life complete with a thatched roof cottage by the sea in Wales. Go there in your mind, really experience all of it, details of what it would look like, the challenges faced and feelings once living there. It would be a work of fiction since you would not actually be doing it. You could get your research side going looking into all the parameters of thatched-roof cottages in Wales, things one would need to achieve like passports and VISA clearances in order to get there and stay there for any extended length of time. Just an idea…merely thinking out loud. What do you think?

    1. Hi Susan,
      What a great idea! It would be a relief to start writing that book rather than continue waiting for the time to be right – i.e., for Shylah to not lose her mind every time I leave the house. And doing that kind of writing would actually serve as a form of creative visualization which might make the dream become a reality that much sooner!
      Thank you so much for your encouragement, Susan. I know that you are very busy right now, but I do hope that life calms a bit, perhaps in the fall, so that you move forward with your memoir.

      1. Hi Karen,
        I am so relieved you feel that way about my suggestion…I think you could do a book like that justice and as the author, unlike in life, you have complete control over how things turn out. Shylah losing her mind every time you leave the house does not sound fun. You’re welcome for the encouragement – I for one have every faith in your ability to craft the words to paint a vivid picture of the scenes and characters you are writing about. I am very busy right now with many things YouTube, church, gardening, reading and keeping up with my emails on top of housework etc. I hope things do calm a bit in the fall so I can get back to working on my memoir some more. Thanks for your good wishes in that regard.

  13. Your intro to this week’s post is as fine a piece of writing as anyone could hope to produce. It has style, flow, purpose, and grace. I salaam in reverence.

  14. Hi Karen – I really enjoyed reading this post and your Mary Oliver quote. Based on your list, I feel that I’m living a writer’s life. I know if I spend time to write and edit, I can improve my writing. However, that takes time and involves a lot of stillness so at the moment I choose to keep moving.

    1. Hi Natalie,
      It’s definitely true that writing requires stillness as well as lots and lots of words on the page. Totally understandable that it’s not your thing in the way that travel is. You take photographs to remind you of your trips and that works well for you. If it ain’t broke, no need to fix it.

  15. Hi Karen,
    This is a wonderful post, and I do love a good acronym! Congratulations on your writing successes! I can only hope to someday have six books to my name. And if you indeed have another waiting in the wings, it will make itself known to you when the time is right. That’s what I tell myself, anyway! 🙂

    I would need to add another “S” to the two above: selfish. For me, writing fiction feels very selfish, but not necessarily in a bad way. I want to see if I can tell a particular story in a particular way, basically for my own gratification. Of course, I hope other people like it, too, but, really, it’s all about me proving (or disproving) something to myself. I imagine writing non-fiction might feel very different…?

    1. Hi, Jenny.
      I can certainly see that meeting the challenge for yourself would be an excellent driver for a fiction writer. I don’t see that as selfish. I see it as challenge. And a healthy challenge given that lots of fiction never ends up being published so if you aren’t writing it to prove or disprove something to yourself, it would be an even more frustrating experience than I imagine it sometimes is.
      In non-fiction, at least for me, the challenge is to get to the simplicity that’s on the other side of complexity, not dumbing down an idea but finding its core and explaining it both elegantly and in a way that inspires people – to learn or to take action.

  16. That cottage in Wales sounds absolutely divine… especially while we are currently experiencing much hotter than normal temps here. Like others have said (that’s what I get for commenting late 🙂 ), your six characteristics apply to other pursuits too. I’m not sure when someone becomes a true “writer” (and who gets to determine who gets that label), but IMHO, the work you do on your blog, and the books you’ve published would certainly qualify you. You are living a writer’s life because you are a writer.

    1. Thanks, Janis. It doesn’t matter when you stop by to read and comment. It’s always appreciated because you are always appreciated. You are such a warm, supportive, encouraging woman, Janis. I like that about you 🙂

  17. Karen – what a great post! I think you know I have several works-in-progress and have always wanted to be a published author. I self-published two books — probably too hastily without proper editing and revision. While I don’t long for the ‘thatched roof cottage’, living near a large body of water is a dream and I do agree with all of the elements of ACCESS – and I love the final quote from Mary Oliver you share – it reminds me of my most blog title prior to establishing ‘janet mary cobb’ website – Thinking Aloud.
    I think one main thing that separates a ‘writer/artist life’ and making a living as a writer/artist is discipline AND being business minded.
    This post also reminds me that I want to read your 6 books!
    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

    1. Hi Janet,
      You make a good point about a couple of extra needs if you want to write for publication. Clarifying your audience and looking at the competition and what distinguishes your work from theirs are two bigs ones for that ‘business minded’ part you were talking about.
      Since you’re not in education anymore, I’m thinking that my six books won’t be of great interest to you now. The next book though – if there is one – will definitely be relevant to this stage of life.

  18. Hi, Karen – This post reminds me of everything that I love about this corner of the blogosphere. As usual, your ideas capture and promote deep thought and discussion. Your chosen quotes also support your text perfectly. And the comments make me feel like I am privileged to be amidst an engaging, passionate IRL discussion . To add the cherry on top, is Janet’s offer to be a beta-reader for Pat. I am glad to be back in the blogging world…and part of the tribe at Profound Journey!

    1. Isn’t that just awesome that Janet has offered to be a beta-reader for Pat! I agree with you that the blogosphere, especially our midlife women section of it, is an incredibly supportive, thought-provoking and engaging place to be. Thanks for being part of it and welcome back!

  19. Don’t give up. That’s the biggest skill a writer needs. I agree with most of the points you had, Karen, except solitude. I think you have to be immersed in life to be able to write a good story. The actual writing is often done in solitude (but not always) of course.

    1. Good point about not giving up, AJ. I can imagine that immersing in life would affect fiction writing. In my nonfiction world where research rules the day, solitude is much easier to embrace.

  20. Hi Karen. What a fantastic post! I especially love the recommendation of solitude. It is essential to processing the world and putting all that you experience into words. Too often, we can’t hear our inner writer above the “noise.” Have a wonderful week!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I’m not surprised you’re a woman who agrees with the benefits of solitude – for writing and for life. I’m about to go into a period of solitude and I can’t wait! I hope you’ll have the opportunity too as soon as possible.

  21. Karen, I totally can identify with the seductive fantasty of living the life of a writer. In fact, I admit that one reason that I signed up for a PhD program is that on one dark and stormy night I went to campus and walked around the outside of a building peering into the professors’ office windows. I looked in at the booklined offices bathed in the glow of warm yellow lamps and discovered in myself the desire to live the life of an academic.

    But the life of an academic is nothing like the touchstone fantasy of the professor in the cozy booklined office, just as the real lives of writers actually are nothing like the life-of-a-writer fantasy. By all means, rent the cottage in Wales, or place your writing desk in front of a window with a beautiful view. You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy beautiful spaces and places. And you don’t have to be in beautiful spaces and places to write. In fact, when you are writing, you are in your head, so it doesn’t really matter where your body and keyboard are.

    If you are driven to write, then write. Wherever you are, just write.

    I think the yearning for the fantasized life of a writer is really not about writing at all, but more about the kind of a person you imagine being/becoming. And the tricky thing about that, is that wherever a person goes, or whatever they surround themselves with, they cannot escape the person they are, in all their wonderful, annoying complexity. Wherever you go, there you are.

    My thought of the day is: live the beautiful aesthetic life that you desire; just don’t make that lifestyle contingent on writing, or writing contingent on that lifestyle. Disentangle the two.

    Jude

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