‘One Does What One Is’: On Being a Writer

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A writer. I’ve always wanted to be one – and I’ve always berated and belittled myself for not being one. Well, enough is enough: I’ve decided to stop punishing myself. Not because I’ve suddenly had some success (I haven’t) but because I’ve had an epiphany: I’ve been doing the being all along.

Three decades have passed since I penned my first stories and poems. In that time I’ve spent countless hours scratching away at paper and screen, chiselling out words, some long, none lasting. Instructions for a long-lost game. A script for a sit-com. Stories and essays, experimental and conventional. Blank verse and worse. More unfinished novels than you can poke a pen at. Truly, my slush pile runneth over…

And what do I have to show for thirty years of scribbling? Not much, it seems. A thousand dollars (spent long ago) and the pleasure of seeing four stories in print. A poem pinned to a tree. A piece highly commended in a competition. A book I published myself. Blogs seen only by other bloggers fishing for followers. Not a lot to boast about, really, and yet part of me is proud – especially as I’ve rarely sought publication.

Success is overvalued anyway. Praise, I’d argue, is a prison in which we are condemned to repeat our performances until we come to despise them. As Malcolm Lowry wrote after his novel, Under the Volcano, was published: ‘Success is like some horrible disaster/Worse than your house burning’.

Failure brings freedom – a consoling thought.

Even so, I’ve given up writing dozens of times without ever kicking the habit. I still scribble almost every day, in my journal, on a blog or this year’s novel. I simply enjoy the act too much, despite (and perhaps because of) its difficulties. To me, writing is like a game of solitaire; I deal out characters and their quandaries from a deck of possibilities and see if I can put them in order. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. The result hardly matters; the play’s the thing, as Hamlet says.

Of course, it’s not all fun of a fleeting variety. Writing leaves me with something more lasting: a body of work that adds shape and substance to my physical self, that fleshes out my store of meagre memories. My writing is a record of my doings and beings; it’s my history. I am truly a man of my words.

‘One does what one is; one becomes what one does.’ So said Robert Musil, a writer remembered for his influential and yet unfinished novel, The Man Without Qualities.

Unfinished? That’s good enough for me.

[Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay]

2 thoughts on “‘One Does What One Is’: On Being a Writer

    Stuart Danker said:
    July 12, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    Any accomplishment isn’t something to be scoffed at! Am rooting for you to reach new heights with your craft, so I thought I’d drop a message here. Thanks for sharing!

      timmnewlands responded:
      July 12, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. Not sure where I’m going with my writing but I’ll keep chugging along. Best of luck to you too

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