The One Thing I Don’t Give Up For My Writing

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A while ago I shared this list of the things I do and do not sacrifice for my writing. Today I wanted to dig a little deeper into one of those.

Most notably: on why I don’t sacrifice my friends and family for my writing.

This past weekend I was faced with an all-too-common writer’s dilemma: to stay in and write, as I’d planned, or to go out with a friend I don’t get to see often, who’d unexpectedly come to town?

I read quite a few other writing blogs, and on more than one occasion, I’ve come across advice that goes something like, “to be a writer, you must become a hermit. Sacrifice your social life. Your time is for writing.”

I’d like to offer another perspective on this.

Look, the hermit’s life did work for some writers. Take Emily Dickinson. She famously shut herself in her room and shunned society to write. Thoreau had Walden Pond. There are other examples out there too, I’m sure, though at the moment I can’t think of them.

And then there were writers like Hemingway. He famously lived a wild life,  from going to war, to wandering around Paris and Spain, to marrying over and over again, trying to collect as many experiences as possible. Because he wanted to be able to write about life, in all its richness, as authentically as possible.

And when it comes to my write-life balance, I fall very firmly in the Hemingway school of thought.

I’m not about to join the army or become a philanderer or start bull-fighting in Spain. Because writing about those things doesn’t particularly interest me.

You know what does interest me? People. Relationships between people. Be they familial or romantic or friendship-based or best of all, something murkier.

When I was younger (read: a naive teenager) I used to wish I was one of those people who’d meet their soulmate right away and live happily ever after. That didn’t happen. And I’m so grateful it didn’t. Because then I never would have had any of the failed, messy, complicated relationships and friendships that make up the heart of a lot of the things I write about now. My writing wouldn’t be authentic.

I’m not saying you can’t write outside your own experiences. You absolutely can, and should, and I do. All the time. I’ve never been kidnapped, or orphaned, or been seduced by a prince (I know you’re surprised by that last one), and these things all happen in my writing. But I have felt scared, felt alone, fallen in love. I draw on the things I know to get to the things I don’t. And I wouldn’t know about these things if I shut myself up in my room. I needed to go out and experience them.

In order for me to be able to write authentically about relationships between people, I need to, you know, have relationships with them.

So the reason I sometimes choose to go out and live life over staying in and writing about is simply that for me, life is fodder for writing. Yesterday I did go out and meet my friend instead of staying in. And you know what? We got into a really interesting conversation about her job that sparked an idea for a future story.

How about you? Are you more of an Emily Dickinson or a Hemingway? Why? I’d love to hear your perspective on this…

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