A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and he gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.
— Bob Dylan
A lot of us who want to be writers, I mean be writers for a living, where does that desire come from? There’s something in there about self-reliance, about feeding yourself and your family, putting a roof over your head, doing it by something you made; it’s maybe not quite as visceral as farming or building your own house out of lumber from trees you cut down, but it’s in the same vein, or at least it isn’t as far removed as is sitting in a cubicle doing something that is one tiny link in a giant chain that primarily makes money for someone else…
Okay. It’s not just about the self-reliance, though, it’s about self-direction. About doing what you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do. There are writers and artists of all kinds who, when they start to feel like they’re pandering to an audience, cranking something out because it’s become expected of them that they will crank out a certain kind of thing, it begins to drive them crazy, and they don’t want to do it anymore. So it’s not just about the writing, it’s about the feeling of being self-directed, that is, writing can become the same kind of trap as can any job, where you feel like you’re just sitting in a cubicle doing something for someone else.
Maybe cubicles are the real problem. We can all agree on that, right?
This quotation really summed up what I’ve always felt as a vague or sometimes sharp pain in my life, the bridling against expectations, what people expect me to do with myself and my time and attention. Right now I’m fortunate, very fortunate, to have the ability to direct my own time pretty much however I want, and, believe me, it’s as double-edged as any metaphorical sword. Not asking you to cry tears for my freedom to play video games all day if I want to, just saying that doing whatever you want is not necessarily the whole trick. Because “does what he wants to do” isn’t just a matter of having no one else standing in the way… turns out you will stand in your own way as well.
So, I want to be a writer, and it’s hard to crank the words. The habit of doing so does not come easily, is not coming easily, I’m still working on it. Because I want to write, but, frankly? I usually just don’t feel like it. The being a success, then, is not just the end goal of making a living from publishing novels, a man1 is a success if, in between getting up and going to bed, he does the things he truly wants to do to have the life he wants to live… even if he does them in spite of himself.
- It’s “man” in the version of the quote I’ve seen and I’ve used the male pronouns throughout; they’re what I identify with, after all. But I hope it’s clear this has nothing to do with gender, this is for all of us. ↩