I’m currently in my last graduate school course, and in it, we focus on the writing life: How do you start getting paid for your work? How do you start publishing? How do you make sure you still write even after school is over? Basically, how do you apply everything you’ve learned in school to the real world?
One of our assignments was to get out and experience Chicago’s writing scene. Last Friday, I attended a book signing at The Book Cellar, where I listened to author Nichole Bernier speak about her first novel: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. Prior to writing the novel, Bernier had not experimented much with fiction writing. She wrote primarily nonfiction, but she found herself turning to her fictional work more and more.
Bernier surprised the audience when she said she was working freelance, caring for five children and writing her book at the same time. Naturally, someone asked if she believed that women could “have it all.” Rather than saying it could all be done, she explained that sometimes you have to give up certain things in order to do what you really love to do. Maybe you don’t give as much attention to your hobbies — she said she didn’t run a marathon, for example.
This idea of balancing life and creative work is something that comes up often in conversations with my classmates and professors. Can you write well if you aren’t out there living? Can you really devote enough time to writing if you are too busy living? At what point, exactly, do you put down the pen, close the laptop, and walk away?
After hearing a series of guest speakers in class and after attending readings, it is obvious that everyone has a different writing method that works for them: some get up early, some stay up late, some take very long breaks, some never take breaks, and others simply write when they can work it into their schedule. All of these writers, though, agree on one thing: you have to be writing in order to be a writer. If you have a craft, you must be practicing that craft.
For Bernier and these writers, writing is a given. When it’s not there, when you don’t do it, you can feel it calling you back. Writing becomes a part of you. Bernier said we have to ask ourselves what we would do if we only had two hours left and no obligations and no one else around. As writers, or course, we would write.
So, is it possible that as writers, we aren’t living enough? I don’t think so, because if we are passionate about writing, writing is living. Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to shut ourselves away and never see our families or friends (though some writers in history have done that). To me, it means that when you feel that inspiration, when you feel that need to write, you follow it. Maybe that means you don’t go to the gym today or you don’t join your friends for another Happy Hour excursion or you use your day off to write. There have been too many times when I thought I wasn’t balancing my life well enough, so even though I had an idea I wanted to get out, I pushed it back and put it on hold. Sadly, sometimes we lose that idea or inspiration when we do that, and we end up feeling that ache that comes from the absence of writing in our lives.
Hearing from these established writers has been an inspiration to me. Why should I feel guilty that sometimes, I just want to work on my stories? My passion is not just writing, but storytelling in many different forms, and in order to develop that art, I need to be working on it. When you love something — when you’re passionate about it — it’s not really work. It’s living.