Why I am Declaring Bankruptcy

 

Calling yourself a writer feels a lot like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy: as Toby informs Michael, that is not exactly how it works. You can’t just say something and call it into existence.

But maybe you can declare something, and then take action. Maybe the declaration is necessary as a writer. I don’t know about declaring bankruptcy; I think the rules for that are a little more cut and dry. But as for writing, let the record show I am pro-declaration.


 

Here’s what I think (and where I disagree with Toby): If you write, you are a writer. If your writing is published, you are a published writer. Anyone who writes without a gun pointed at their head can call themselves a writer. But if you want to be called a good writer, well, there is no label so solidifying as that.

There are many writers who have been published, who are bad writers. Just because you are published, does not mean you are a good writer. So, that stinks.

The thing is, if you are looking for validation, you will likely find it. Plenty of people will tell you that you are good at writing, if you ask around enough. Plenty of people will tell you that you are terrible at writing, too. Plenty of publishers will turn you down. As they have turned down many-a-good writer.

I want someone to tell me I have what it takes. But for every person who tells me that, there will be at least one other person out there who thinks I don’t have what it takes. This is why you should never put your self worth in the hands of others. There is little comfort in their opinions.

Being a writer is about writing. It is not about being patted on the back. It is about being the best writer you can possibly be, because that is the best you will ever be, and no more. The only feedback you can ever trust is what is given to you by people you trust and respect. And in that case, you are only a good writer to them. There is also Time, which is perhaps the fairest judge of good writing. But it’s still all a little shaky, isn’t it?

There will always be doubts in the minds of writers as long as there are sentences left to form. But you won’t ever be a writer unless you call yourself one first. I hesitate to call myself a writer because in doing so, I feel like an imposter. Because I am not published. Because I only have this blog. And also because calling myself a writer is totally terrifying. It means I have something to live up to. It means I am opening myself up for judgment. But this is the year for dispelling fears, so I am going to take the leap.

I’m a writer, because I write. I am a writer, because I am working on getting published. I am slowly but surely working on a novel that I will attempt to have published before I die. That may not be good enough for you, but it is good enough for me. And so, I am a writer.

The rock solid truth behind the sentiments of this post is: if you don’t declare it, you can’t fail. By saying I am a writer,I am throwing “failure” into the mix of possible outcomes of my writing journey. But failure is just as subjective as “good writing” is in this instance. And who is afraid of failure? Not me.

How silly this all sounds, now that it is in the open. How silly to be afraid. How silly to declare bankruptcy.

So I ask you this, all of you aspiring writers (or aspring anythings): will you call yourself a writer with me? Let us declare that we are writers as boldly and confidently as Michael Scott declares bankruptcy. And then let’s write–and keep writing until we have become better than anyone else who shares our same thumb print.


P.S. Why writing is terrifying

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How to Change Your Life

change-your-life-quote1This year, all the voices in my head telling me that everything I wanted to accomplish before I die would happen later, finally became too much to handle. I don’t know if it was a random feeling that fell out of the sky, or a culmination of undetectable thoughts conspiring against me slowly for the past few years. But the truth that the only time I have is now, is finally taking hold. And now is all I will ever have.

 
These thoughts I had did not cause a panic, as perhaps they should have. Because underneath the layers, their message is freeing. And not in the sense that I feel empowered to do things I want to do. But rather, I am reminded that I can’t do everything, and I am not called to do everything. Because time is limited, and we live in time, and we are limited beings.
 

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us (J.R.R. Tolkien)-and that is the time we are accountable for. To-do lists and ambitions and goals must be kept in their place. When conquered, they are conquered in the present, enveloped by reality. And in reality, where dreams often go to die, is where things get done.

 
(I am not necessarily a fan of John Maxwell–I don’t know much about him–
but I like this quote out of context and as-is.)

Why I Never Cuss (but wish I did)

 

I wish I could cuss, dammit.

I hope this doesn’t cause a terrible scandal, but, I think moderate cussing is punchy and effective sometimes. I am therefore not against it, in its place. I am just slightly disappointed that I never can find a place for it. I am waiting for the day when I can justify using the F word out loud. “Won’t it be satisfying?” I tell myself, “won’t it be delightfully shocking?”. But every time I wonder if it is the time and place for it, I always find a better way of saying what it is I want to say. Which can be deflating.

In my writing, I will occasionally insert a mild cuss word or two just to test it out. But in my effort to be completely honest in my writing (it is only an effort, to be clear), I always find myself erasing it in the editing process. And I say that with some regret, because cussing is more fun. I think “hell” an especially fun, and barely-offensive word that can be very effective. I would argue that it should be taken out of the “bad word” box but then there would be no satisfaction in saying it. I would be more inclined to promote its becoming an even worse word, to make it all the more desirable.

I find that in all creative pursuits, there is usually a shortcut that is more enticing. But when I ask myself if there is a better way, there usually is. And oftentimes that makes me mad. Mad enough to cuss, in fact. I don’t not cuss because I think cussing is evil. I don’t cuss because I am a recovering perfectionist. I know a sentence cannot reach perfection, just as I cannot. There will always be a better way, so why can’t I just lower the bar for myself just a little bit, and allow the occasional cuss word to stay?

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. 
Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very;” otherwise you’ll have no word left 
when you want to talk about something really infinite.” 
-C.S. Lewis


I have found that in writing, a little extra discipline can take the fun out of it but in the end, makes the finished product more articulate. In this instance, I am okay with being a recovering perfectionist. But secretly, I am waiting for the day when I can leave a cuss word in, and think to myself, “this is complete. It cannot be improved.” I do think that day will come, if I wait patiently for it.


What is your take on cussing? I would love to know. Do you cuss on a regular basis? Do you never cuss? Do you think this post is nuts? If you do, you probably aren’t a perfectionist, and I admire you for that.

P.S. More confessions of a recovering perfectionist…

My Solumn Thesis Statement

In college, I had a history professor I couldn’t bring myself to like. I was a history major, and therefore had many history professors, most of whom I really liked. But this one in particular was my least favorite. She taught Ancient Egypt, which you would think would make her super cool and relateable, but it was not so. I am not one to easily jump to the conclusion that someone dislikes me, but I really do believe this professor hated me and I have no idea why.

My suspicions of her dislike for me began with the first paper I wrote in her class, which she returned to me with the first paragraph circled and this comment: “Where is your thesis statemet? Rewrite.”

Where is your thesis statement? Okay. I’ve been wrong before. I’ll just rewrite my first paragraph to make it more clear. And so I did. And so she was still unsatisfied. 

I wrote another paper for her, and again, she circled my first paragraph. I marched up to her after class and said, “Ms. —, I am sorry, but I do not understand why you keep telling me I don’t have a thesis statement.” She proceeded to tell me that a thesis is a sentence, or two, in which you told your reader what your paper was going to argue. I proceeded to tell her, as politely as I could, that I knew what a thesis was, and that I was merely confused because no other professor had ever told me I had this problem, and plus, I thought it was pretty clear what my paper was trying to argue.

I read her what I thought to be my thesis statement in that paragraph, and she said, “it’s just not very clear.” I asked her if I could come to her with my next paper, before it was due, to have my thesis approved by her before I turned it in. She said she could take a look at it, but she could not actually approve it, because that would give me an advantage over the other students. It would be like giving me a grade before it was graded. And apparently that was a cardinal sin. 


^Turning in my Senior History Thesis (my final paper, not a sentence), The Scottish Struggle for the Establishment of Presbyterian Church Government in a Time of Political Change, that allowed me to graduate.

Needless to say, she was the most unhelpful professor I had, and I never wrote a thesis statement that pleased her, even though my next one literally said, “in this paper I am going to argue…”, and was approved by both of my rooommates at the time. It still wasn’t good enough for her, and she gave me a C in the class. To this day I remain confused, but not as confused. Because I have learned that life is, indeed, sometimes unfair.

And anyway, how can I blame her? I am sure she was only projecting onto me the abuse she had received sometime in her past from a cranky old professor who beat her over the head with a two-by-four for not writing clear first paragraphs.

That brings me to this: I still think about this professor every once in a while without bitterness. Despite her intentions, she did teach me to take thesis statements very seriously. And I mean seriously. After all, it doesn’t hurt to go over your argument one more time, and take time to figure out exactly what you are trying to say. 

I think about this blog’s thesis statement all the time. I consider my “about me” my thesis statement, and I would be lying if I said its length and wordiness didn’t bother me from time to time. But the truth is, sometimes the marketing part of blogging bothers me. You do have to brand yourself in the sense that you have to tell people who you are, so they know what they are getting. And I don’t always like putting myself into a box. Figure out your niche, they tell you, or you will never be a successful blogger.

My niche is that I am an aspiring writer, whatever that means, who makes experiments in creativity publicly to slowly, but surely, write the thesis statement of my life–the one that sums everything up in a nice neat bow and makes sense of every thought I have ever thought. My blog’s thesis is that I am working toward a thesis. 

And now is the part where I recognize the truth in my professor’s over-the-top criticism: thesis statements are hard. And figuring out the statement that will summarize my life or simply why I write? Well, it is always changing. It is always being tweaked. But I think it is the process of working toward it that I enjoy most; the uncharted path from the present to the future with all of its tall grass and thorns, that I have grown to accept and even love. 

What is your life’s thesis statement? What does your writing try to argue? If you think about it, thesis statements are a part of everything, really. We cannot escape them.