Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. – Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club
Writer’s are a fragile bunch. We are primarily solitary creatures, except when we are gathering with other writers to talk about writing. We spend most of our lives dancing to music that exists only in our heads, talking to characters no one else can hear, and trying to effectively communicate what they say to everyone else.
That can be a lot of pressure. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about the delicate psyche of the writer and the oppressive gravity a blank page can place upon them. I think sometimes we let ourselves get frightened by the gravity and scope of what we are trying to do. There are so many things to worry about. There is plot, characters, theme, setting, dialogue, grammar, spelling. We may invest hundreds of hours in a work of fiction that sucks and no one will ever read. We want to write something special, something that means something. We want to write the great American novel.
Anne Lamott deals with this by telling herself she only has to write what she can see through a one inch window. What I do is far less romantic, and likely the by-product of a blue-collar upbringing. I remind myself that I am not special. I cannot sit and watch a beautiful masterpiece flow from my fingertips. I am working. That requires practice, attention to detail, stubbornness, and the little bit of skill I possess.
I am not special. Thousands of writers are facing that same blank page at this moment. Hundreds of thousands of writers have faced millions of blank pages, and amazingly they have managed to be filled. The Library of Congress has 33 million books, not even a small percentage of all the writing done when you include magazines, screenwriting, playwriting, etc.
I am facing the same problem as everyone else. My answer will be the only thing different. When I stopped writing for awhile, a lot of it was about pressure. Some people around me who had read my stuff said I had talent. I felt pressure to perform and to do so immediately. Write a best-seller, my ex-wife used to say, so we can live on the money. She was trying to be supportive and encouraging, but a few rejection letters later, I stopped submitting. It was one thing for Ray Bradbury and Stephen King to say to persevere through rejections, they could literally crap on a sheet of paper and a publisher would buy it. But I am not either one of them.
Lately, I’ve been going to writer’s groups, and that has made the difference. I realized that I am not special. I am not the only writer struggling to start a literary career. I’m not even the only writer in my sub-genre in this city. Hell, for all I know, I’m not the only writer on my block. Somehow, that all makes me feel better. It calms my agoraphobic social phobia enough to get to work.
You don’t worry about mowing your lawn correctly because everyone does it. You don’t worry about shoveling snow the right way. You just shovel it. If you are working on a car, you know other people have done the same repair before and you just go do it.
When I approached writing this way, suddenly the blank page wasn’t near as offensive. Writing is just another thing I do. I love doing it, but in the end, it’s just another project. A blank page is nothing. I’ve filled them before. My colleagues are out there filling them right now. My fellow writers of the Dead Horse Society, the Writers of the Weird, and the Lawrence Writer’s Group are out there punching keys along with me. Some of our stuff will be good, some of it great, some of it God awful, but it will be there.
I’m not a beautiful and unique snowflake, and that is fine by me.
9 thoughts on “You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake”
Well said. You make me feel real… thanks for the new perspective.
It definitely helped me. Somehow, making writing seem more like work and less like magic makes the bad first drafts easier to stomach.
It definitely shuts up the inner critic and gets you going. Thanks.
We all have anxiety about writing, and shutting up that critic is one of the most important things we can do. Every writer everywhere is doing the exact same thing with the exact same tools. Most of us type, some write on paper. We have the same words available for use. Most of our sentences will have the same structure. Most of our grammar will be similar. Most of our longer stories will follow a three-act structure. We will all use characters, put them in a setting, and let them talk and act. Depending on what you believe about plot, we will all use the same basic ones. Writing is a process, and like all processes, much of what we do will be similar to what others are doing. We don’t have to re-invent it. Our themes, the way we develop our characters, and our voice will make us special. It’s just like building your furniture. No one else will make that piece of furniture, but it still has the basic form of a chair (or whatever you made).
It’s all about making it our own. What could be more natural than that? Good luck.
Hear, hear! What a sensible and helpful approach to writing: stop obsessing about it being high Art and instant perfection and look on it as a task and a practice. What could be more honorable in the end? Or ironically, for that matter, more likely to put you in the groove where Art and greatness have a chance of happening! I’m with you on this. Slogging through has its own comforts, challenges and even charms, once you get into it. So much less intimidating, more approachable.
I am with you on that one. Great art isn’t by accident. It’s a product of nose to the grindstone, butt to the seat.
My friend and fellow blogger, I was given a recognition for my blog today that includes as its prize the opportunity to share the recognition with people I think deeply deserving for their work as well. Please accept this bow to your excellence and the attached challenge! Thanks for the inspirations.
I agree with you too. Writing is my life as if, without writing how could have been my life, I don’t know. But my walking way is different a little bit from yours. I am not writing in my own language anymore, I try to write in this language. I know not easy… But I need a language for to write… Writing is a kind of breathing for me… I don’t think too that I am a beautiful and unique snowflake but I am one of them who is able to write… And this makes me, what I am… I am glad to meet with you Jack Campbell. Thank you, with my love, nia
I just finished a piece of furniture (I promise, this is relevant to the post and applies to writing) and was talking about it to a friend of mine that creates beautiful woodwork. To him nails and screws are cheating. What I built was full of hardware, and I confessed this to my friend. I thought he would condemn my work. Instead he asked three questions: “Does it look good?” “Did you have a fun time building it?” “Did you learn new things?” To each I responded in the affirmative. Then he said “Then who cares how you built it, because you did build it.”
Until I read your blog post today, I didn’t realize that what my friend said applies to writing. Thank you for making writing more integral to my life by saying “Writing is just another thing I do.”