When I was in my mid-twenties and the World Wide Web was still new, I eventually found writing and critiquing communities like forums and Critters.org. What is so useful about these communities for writers is the opportunity to learn from others, learn about how to give and receive useful feedback, and learn that we are not alone in the struggles and challenges of being a writer.
The problem with some (Many? Just me?) men in their twenties is that they often won’t shut up and listen; they pronounce. Loudly. I pronounced on a writing forum one day that only writers who sacrifice themselves painfully and entirely to their art will be published and successful. To defend my pronouncement, I called out people who I believed would probably never be published. I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I’m ashamed that I called out housewives and retirees specifically.
As you can imagine, the writing forum members from different backgrounds, identities, and writing experiences reacted with outrage. The more people responded negatively, though, the more I dug in. I insisted that art was sacrifice and many people simply couldn’t or wouldn’t make the necessary sacrifice. I felt very libertarian. Very Ayn Rand. Very suffering artist. Very martyr. Very young. Very convinced and convincing.
Yeah, I was a complete idiot.
It’s horrifying to admit that my sense of righteous rightness about writing was driven most by those hurt personally by my statements and those who reacted with shock and anger. They’re just reacting to being called out, I thought at the time, these women who only have a few minutes to write in the morning before their children wake up. Of the retirees who I told wouldn’t ever be published because they had waited too long, I thought they can’t take the truth spoken so bluntly. Truth is truth, A is A, and getting emotional about it isn’t going to change anything.
Yeah, I was a mean fucking lunatic.
All that bluster and proclaiming was me trying to convince me to write. I got caught up in the writing communities online because I thought that would make me feel like a writer, even though I wasn’t actually doing much writing. I wasn’t a disciplined writer back then. I’d get excited about a story, write for a few hours over a few days, and then not write again for months or years. I was afraid I had neither the talent or discipline to write. I thought being published was the only measure of success. I cowardly used the forum in a selfish way that hurt others to try to convince myself to write more. I used my posts to set myself apart from the other writers and found in alienation and controversy a fantasy of my own future success: I don’t have any kids and I’m still young, so I’ve got plenty of time! Next stop: bestselling author!
I’d like to say that as I got older, I learned to keep my mouth shut and showed more restraint and empathy. Maybe. A few years ago, I joined a local Tucson meetup for writers. Most of the attending writers were retirees. They all told a similar story: always wanted to write, but work, family, life got in the way, and now in retirement, finally have the time and space. I didn’t speak out loud, thank goodness, but I thought the same old tired, irresponsible, dishonest, and uncaring thought: none of you are going to be published because you waited too long. That’s not going to be me, though, because I’m only in my forties.
What utter bullshit. It was typical obnoxious white male bluster and prejudice to hide my own deep seated fears behind hurtful pronouncements about others. In an America where that type of idiocy is on display 24-7 and threatens the very foundations of democracy, it’s a blast of frigid air to look and find in me all the ways I haven’t behaved any better than those idiots I now condemn.
Pronouncing dogmatic and arbitrary rules without any basis in reality or consideration for others is a reoccurring theme in my life, often perpetrated by others, but also committed all too frequently by me. That ignorance is what comes with privilege and prejudice, and it causes great harm and suffering to others. I’ve experienced how it also binds me and gives me tunnel vision, how it leads to me setting the wrong goals, using the wrong measures, and failing to make any progress. Rules like these (“You have to sacrifice yourself for your art”) have never lead me to any kind of success.
I eventually sought help from a counsellor who pointed out just how many strange, useless, and impossible rules I have tried to live by that I created out of pure fantasy. These rigid, arbitrary rules have prevented me from obtaining any of the goals I set for myself. It took longer for me to see how these rules are born out of fear and prejudice. Seeing this kind of behavior in the news every day recently has opened my eyes to the ways in which I have been just another awful person making up bullshit and trying to force it on others to somehow make myself feel better.
Twenty years after I posted bullshit on a writing forum, felt alienated, and drifted away quickly. How many years of good advice, inspiration, and companionship did I give up because I acted like a dick? Some sacrifice. I hope my ignorant posts have been deleted or at least buried by time. I hope most of the forum members who read my posts back then just ignored me, and I hope those who pointed out my bullshit forgot all about me eventually. They didn’t deserve to be treated like that by me.
Writers write, but the details are up to the individual writer, not some stupid blowhard who makes up and pronounces fictional rules about art and sacrifice and insults a bunch of devoted writers in the process. I’m only now beginning to figure out what works best for me. I might have learned a lot sooner but I didn’t listen to the very people who could have inspired me the most: housewives and retirees and many others writers in all sorts of situations with all sorts of experiences writing with all kinds of definitions of success.