Glory to the Craftsman
I have come to believe that writing is, at its core, a job not of the proficient visionary but one of the toiling laborer. In other words, a writer is a craftsman of words. Please let us not romanticize the work as anything else.
To sit down when required, to show up every day—healthy or ill, stimulated or languid—and place word after word into a coherent sequence that, if we are lucky, coalesces into a transmission of relatable human emotion seems to me no different than the laying of brick, or the hammering of nails.
Writing is labor. And it is hard labor at that.
What's more, I do not believe there is a secret to brilliant writing. Like anything in this life, a person who wishes to write well must simply put in the time—and that's on the keyboard, as well as off. It must consume the mind, but still the writer must live, and live as fully as he or she can.
Spending time at the keyboard is my own great struggle and I am guessing it could be yours, too. It is one of evolution's sick jokes that procrastination exists and yet it does not seem to be taking leave of us anytime soon. But perhaps the sickness exists only as a means for separating the wheat from the chaff. You have to water the seeds to grow the tree, as they say, and likewise we writers must work the words as one works the muscles in aims of strength. Fail to do so on any given day and our words will atrophy just the same.
The only comfort I’ve found lies in the discovery that a writer does not need to be seated at the keyboard in order to consider him or herself engaged in the act of writing. No, the beauty of the craft is that it can be done at anytime, anywhere. This, however, also waives the right to excuses.
To write, you do not need a pencil, pen, or notebook; and, buddy, you sure as hell do not need the keyboard either.
In fact, we are probably better off starting without. Half of writing, believe it or not, is living. At least that is how I’ve come to view the damned thing—though this may be just another cop out toward my own procrastination. Whatever.
The truth of my situation is that I write best in the car, or on a motorcycle. I write nicely in the bars of airports, and I write even better on walks through my neighborhood. Think that's fancy? I also write during dinners and I write during parties, and wouldn't you know, I even write during dinner parties. It’s because I hate the keyboard that much that I am writing anywhere but there—anywhere I can think—which is everywhere, even during sleep. As long as I am able to have ideas, talk to people, and experience the world before me, well, that to me is writing. All the rest is transcription.
Of course, in order to share your writing, to work at it and make it transmissible, you must spend time with the keyboard.
Why? Because the human memory is surprisingly fragile, insanely fallible, and all things are lost to time unless properly written down. This goes for both the little details and the giant ideas you believe are so prophetic that there is absolutely no chance of forgetting them; but hear me now, fella, you will damned sure forget them! Hell, you'd forget your own face without the reflection of a mirror. Do not overestimate your monkey brain. You must make armistice with the keyboard.
In my own work the worst habit I possess has always been anticipating the time I do need to be at the keyboard. Our friend, Mr. Webster, calls this fear of the future 'anxiety,’ and anxiety, kids, is another face for the devil—he who begets procrastination; father to the prodigal son known as the blank white page, whose own bastard child is self-torture and sleepless nights.
The magic sauce does not exist. Jesus Christ will not rise again, wunderkinds are overrated. To write we must follow the needs of our time. We must return to the craftsmen. We must start building—with words, equations, bricks, layers of paint, and warm embraces—as our grandparents did before us.
We must do this now.