Most, if not all writers write to self-satisfy. But we must stay hungry to become a great writer. Accept you will always be hungry and satisfied only for a short time. Celebrate your hunger. And live for the journey–the writing process–not the destination.
My body physically aches when I write. A hungry, humming, delicate, exciting, good ache that will not let go until tended. Even when what I mean to say is, at first, difficult to put into intelligible sentences and reads like a neanderthal’s first attempts at emotional expression, even when the act of writing feels impossible to bear throughout, and even when I convince myself that what I’m feeling is wrong, what I am writing is crap, and the whole world should be set on fire so no one will ever discover those awkward tender words, eventually I see, I believe, I feel that good ache satisfied. Eventually I see, I believe and I feel the journey is worth the pain.
Feed your soul and your next project
I believe that most, if not all writers write to self-satisfy. More specifically, we write for many reasons and each reason leads to feeling satisfied, put at peace. Say what you need to say. Say whatever paws and protests at you to be let out; whatever is splintered, disturbed, lost and needs to be put together, calmed and found. Say it so you are put together, calmed and found, over and over and over again, after every flushed out, edited and re-edited, and finally realized story, essay or poem. The ideas, the stories, the intimations of things never cease, nor should they. Otherwise, we would not be writers, but people who wrote…once.
We love the way writing makes us feel. I love that feeling of making sense of the bits and pieces of thought and feeling that swell my mind-body. I love how in the end, the piece is never what I thought it would become when I started. Not only can the purpose of the piece change, but so can the genre. An essay can easily become a poem or vice versa.
In this sense, all art is the same. You never end where you begin. Though the finished piece, the destination, is marvelous, is beautiful, is a perfect piece of some part of whoever you are in the moment, realized and put into the world, the journey is the thing that brings revelation and knowledge, that carries you forward, feeds your soul and your next project.
As beautiful or shitty as the finished piece can be, the purpose is not the destination. The purpose is the writing process, the journey. If, for example, you could simply touch a piece of paper, or a blank word document on your computer and a beautifully written essay or poem or novel suddenly appears, would that bring satisfaction? I doubt it.
Other than confused and a little freaked out, I would feel very unsatisfied, still hungry. Hungry for those moments when pieces of thoughts and intimations of feelings, initially hard to even put into words, begin to come together, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph–or, if a poem, line by line, stanza by stanza–slowly taking shape toward a final proclamation, a final destination: a completed article or poem.
Without the blood, sweat, tears, blaspheming, and cramps, writing is magic. Magic is easy and not fulfilling. What would be the point?
You must hunger, feed, gratify, rinse and repeat. Writers should be greedy and never satisfied. click to tweet
The purpose of the writer’s journey, besides writing mindfully and fed by the journey itself, is that you take the knowledge, the awareness, the hope, the memory of feeling with you for your next project. Your next novel, your next poem, your next essay, and so on. You improve your art. So, you must be greedy and let that hunger to become better, to discover, to write like a matterfucker, to get up when you fall marvelously hard, motivate you to gorge in the love, blood and bread, fear and dirt that feeds the writing process. You must hunger, feed, gratify, rinse and repeat. Writers should be greedy and never satisfied.
Like many of you, I’m at the beginning of this great and terrifying journey to becoming a writer. And though this beginning has been and continues to be exhausting and difficult, and a good portion of my path is so far paved with shit, false starts and unsettling unknowns, the one thing I am certain about is that my path will eventually have have less shit, unknowns, and false starts the further along I go. I believe this is true for all us of who persist. This is true for all of us who want to write better, to be better than we were yesterday. So, I give you, I give us all permission to be greedy, be insatiable.
Here’s how to be a great writer by being a greedy, insatiable bastard:
Accept you will always be hungry…and never satisfied
Accept that you will literally always be uncomfortable. You will always feel that constant knocking from the inside of your skull and haunting echoes from the deepest, darkest, wanting and weariest corners of your soul, to say something, to write something, to express something, will never go away. You will always have a hunger to feed this insatiable beast.
This is your new normal. Take the time to sit with this truth, and find a way to accept it. Meditate, write about it, talk it over with other fellow writers. Don’t talk about it with friends and family, because they will not get it. But, do what you need to embrace the hunger. To live with that persistent good ache. It will make every moment of gratification that much more delicious!
Celebrate your hunger
Revel in the joy, the deep satisfaction of not just the finished piece, but the journey from the idea to the last final word in your poem, essay, play, story, novel, memoir. I think we artists tend to bathe so doggedly in our self-admonishing and insecurities, we forget to step back and relish our accomplishments, however small or however grand. We forget that the journey is itself a major triumph. Who else but writers, artists such as ourselves would dare to take this wild journey into the unknown and suffer so spectacularly along the way, over and over again? It’s madness…or a special form of sanity.
Whether you’re at the end or the beginning of writing a specific piece, and regardless of how the final project is received, take a step back. Look behind you. See where you were compared to where you are now. Not just how many words you’ve written, but how you still feel about this writing life, how you feel about the effort you put in, and how your life is different now compared to that day long ago you decided to commit to becoming a writer.
Don’t stay gold, Pony Boy. Stay hungry.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
–Robert Frost (Nothing Gold Can Stay)
You know that feeling at the beginning of a new project of getting so excited and hungry you can barely stand it? You know that feeling when you’ve just completed a project and you are so surprised, satisfied, and full of love for everything and everyone? This is the golden hour. The part we seem to live for.
But, you also know how you feel just after you begin a project, when your suddenly so overwhelmed by how much there is to do, how far you have to go to make your idea a story, a novel, a poem, an essay you feel physically sick? Or that feeling just after you finish a project and you start to panic about publishing it or what your next project should be? This is Eden sunk to grief.
I say, live for the journey, not the destination. There are as many glorious moments along this journey as there are difficult ones. In the midst of these difficult ones, take a step back to remember, you’ve accepted the hunger, the path of the writer. This is what you signed up for. But, most importantly, remember these moments will pass. Don’t hold on to them, don’t pretend they’re not happening. Just let the dawn go down to day…and day to dusk…and dawn to day….
Becoming a good to great writer, is a cumulative journey. Writing is a cumulative journey. Life is a cumulative journey. Not linear, but a series of experiences where one feeds into the next. You grow, you get “better”, when you learn from the previous experience. You learn by staying hungry: staying curious, conscious, self-compassionate, open-minded, humble, grateful, skilled. Let your writing suck, so that it can be great. Celebrate your tiniest and greatest accomplishments, so you have the memory of feeling amazing when the dusk comes back around.
When you’re done with life–or life is done with you–and you’re on your death bed, or chair, or toilet—and because you can’t predict where and when you go—let your last words to be, “I don’t want to go. I am not done. But I am full. I am satisfied.” Stay hungry, Pony Boy. Be a greedy bastard!