It’s hard to decide to be a writer. You decide – or you think you’ve decided. You write, so you’re a writer, And that’s true,
Are writers born, or are they made? Can you make yourself a writer, or is it something you are drawn to, whether from early life or at the age of 65? If you are drawn to it and turn away, is it still a part of you? If you write every day but you could give it up tomorrow and feel nothing, if it’s not in your bones, are you a writer? If you write long posts on Reddit and get upvotes and gold, are you a writer? What makes a writer? What does it mean to decide to be one?
Does it matter?
I had this idea two years ago that I wanted a Masters degree. I discovered I was pretty good at something, that I had a knack for it, that it spoke to me. I wanted to take it further. So now here I am, halfway through a research Masters. People are talking about where they want to do their PhD, Do I want to do a PhD? Christ. You work on one thing all year, every day, and it’s interesting but it gets you down. Do I want to do a PhD? I don’t know. Sometimes I think so. But a PhD is four years of your life and you have to defend it at the end. You’re stuck within a system and I’m not sure that system is something I want. The conferences, the regulations, the traditions.
I like my studies, but I’d rather continue it outside the academic system. Start a website. Write history there. I thought I might start with Medium, because of its built-in structure and monetization options. Freelancing is scary. Do I need to register somewhere? I’ll have to do my own taxes! This is something you can’t do by half-measures, something you have to throw yourself into.
Stupid creature, what did you think writing was? You’ve been slacking off. You get ideas for poems and don’t write them, because you’re afraid they won’t measure up to the image in your head. You haven’t even started on that new novel.
Christ, that novel. It’s actually two novels: Sin Eater and Angels and Dead Men. Neither of them worked alone (and SE went through two separate unworkable plots) and then I realised actually the main characters would play well off one another and I should just shove them together and see what happens.
Great. I was thrilled with myself for that brain wave. But have I started working on that novel? No. Girl, you’re being stubborn. Just get to work. Just write it. Stop procrastinating. Get off Twitter, get off Reddit, get off Youtube. But I have to write my thesis. There are 24 hours in a day, bitch. Do you want this, or not?
I have an app that suggests the heart of procrastination is fear. You don’t want to start that essay or that blog post or that poem because you’re afraid it won’t live up to the perfection – not of the vision in your head, necessarily, but of the in potentia representation of it. There is perfection in the blank page. As soon as you start writing the waveform collapses; you leave the universe where it could have become anything and reduce yourself to a finite number of possibilities. I’ve written this novel three times in other incarnations, and it’s never worked. I don’t want to fuck it up again. I want to live in the world where it has the potential to be anything, to be amazing. But if I never put words to page, does it really have that potential? Or have I chosen a world where it never exists at all?
A bad novel can be made better. A world with no novel at all has to be the worst of all possible choices, right? But so long as I don’t make that decision, it floats ahead of me. It’s the thing I can start tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll write that poem that gets accepted by a magazine. Tomorrow, I’ll hit on a great short story idea out of the blue. Tomorrow, I’ll start writing that article for Medium. It’s less scary that way.
But hey. At least all this procrastination means I’m getting some thesis work done. Or maybe turning away from that PhD is just another form of fear.