Never Lived

A common dilemma faced by a young writer is: what do I have to write about? In many cases, the author grew up in suburbia, went to nice schools, and his parents aren’t demanding he become a tech magnate at age 25. Here is the dilemma of the rich man trying to pass through the needle’s eye to enter heaven. A comfortable life is not so nice when you’re trying to be a struggling writer. You have no struggles about which to write.

Do you just give up? Hand over the reins to a more deserving writer, such as an ex-con survivor of a ghetto? Of course not. You have issues that inflame you, and it’s quite likely that many people want to read your explorations into those issues. Being an up-and-coming techie in a small firm struggling to make it big in Philadelphia is only one example of a present-day milieu that you might be ideally situated to write about. Working as a trainer for poor women with diabetes in Chicago is a subject that would attract young college graduates interested in nonprofits.

Merely in these two examples you can see the larger themes that have dominated storytelling through endless generations. I am no literary theorist, but I read once that there are only 16 plots in the entire realm of fiction. That’s about right. So what does that mean to you? You don’t have to worry about creating a whole new matrix. You just need to be honest about the one you know.

If you really want to become a writer, you’re going to struggle anyway. The salary you make as a person who puts writing first, career later, is going to entail a lot of ramen nights. During my five-year stretch as a full-time writer, I worked as a carpenter, house painter, furniture delivery guy, and graduated to a long-haul mover. The point is, if writing really means that much, you will no longer be middle-class. You’ll become, depending on the size of the trust fund, the underclass struggler you admire. I can tell you from personal experience that veering off the smooth highway appointed for you will rattle your perceptions of the world.

So much of what constitutes experience in this world requires that you let go of childhood nostrums. You don’t even know you have them until you look back and say, “Whoa, lots of people couldn’t care less about that.” Your parents aren’t to blame for trying to keep you safe. But once you are out on your own, you have no excuses if you don’t pick up a sledgehammer and start trashing the walls.

 “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
 —Henry David Thoreau

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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Copyright © 2012 John Paine. All rights reserved.