It's a common joke in LA that everyone is a writer. We say it without thinking - laughing at the disheveled schmuck at the coffee shop, the overworked delivery guy, the assistant whose jokes don't land over email. "He's probably some poor, failed writer with a script in a drawer." That's because LA is a living graveyard of the talentless, the passed-over, the meek, the overly bold, the deluded, the burned out. Everyone is a writer, they say. Oh sure, they nod with empty eyes.
But the failures aren't the worst thing. The fact that everyone handing you food either has a big, open, Midwestern face and a dream in their heart or is quietly harboring a consuming hatred for everyone that ever told them no is not the worst part. The worst part is in LA you're face-to-face with the wild success afforded talentless hacks who appear to have no advantage over you other than having been in the right place at the right time. You're stuck in traffic next to the latest Kardashian kid who has dubbed herself a Kreative, hanging out at a party near the guy whose parents bought him a job as a PA on your favorite show, drinking coffee under a signed photo of the robot who wrote Mission Impossible 20: Return of The Explosion. And you haven't written a word in 6 months and you're totally unoriginal and your elderly Eastern European neighbor who waters his lawn in underwear that looks like it belongs in the findings from an archaeological dig is unimpressed that you're a writer because he too has a script in his back pocket. Or would if he were wearing pants.
A writer is...
A) A human with a notable proclivity to comparison, bitterness, and deflated self-esteem.
B) One who is well-versed in arcane technology and has an above-average understanding of grammar SEE ALSO: grammar, a footnote in the history of language which is falling by the wayside due to the expanded use of social media by young people SEE ALSO: millennials are ruining everything
C) Someone who has found a clever label that explains his alcoholism and lack of motivation
If asked to define a writer I'd have to answer with all of the above. Because that's the thing, isn't it? The noun itself isn't hard to apply to oneself so anybody who feels like saying they are one is. No one is going to ask you to actually produce said script from said drawer. They are just going to nod and say "oh sure" until they've heard of you. So the number of failed writers/nothing writers doesn't actually matter that much nor does it skew the stats of success. A limited number of people succeed but that number isn't actually drawing from that seemingly boundless pool - equally diseased as the pacific after a rain. Instead it's drawing from the pool of the people who are meeting the following criteria:
- They're writing
- They're improving
- They're getting their work out there in significant ways
Starting with number one: that's why I'm writing this. Because I need some ass kicking. Because, as Faulkner is credited as saying, "Don't be a writer be writing." If I could tell you how many times I'd contemplated getting that as a tattoo instead of actually writing you'd spit at me. So I'm stuck at number one but looking ahead to number two. Improving, once i get there, is about taking in good content. Reading your work aloud, tightening it up. And, as my writing professors reminded me continuously, creating a routine to stick to so you don't end up in another rut. Improving is all the things you're trained to do. It's editing, it's reading the right stuff so you'll make more stuff, it's outlining and drinking coffee and all the unfun but totally necessary stuff that prove that writing is not a Jackson Pollack painting but actually a homework assignment and even that guy probably had a process and a schedule and a lot of unsexy shit to do to get those spatters to look right and actually want to do them when he was convinced that he was the worst person who ever tried anything and he should probably also cut off his ear while he was at it.
Number two is unsexy but it's not scary. You know what is scary? Number three. And you know why we don't do it? Because all that garbage in our head about how we don't deserve success might be right. Or we might be wrong when we think we're better than the computer software that wrote the Transformers sequels. But feedback is step 3. Finish steps 1 and 2 first. Or take a crack at step one instead of pinteresting typography tattoos. Just my two cents to myself.
Anyway, I think the invisible step zero in the (probably reductive) process I outlined above, especially in an environment over-saturated with "writers" and their imagined "success," is to shut your environment out. I believe strongly in geography informing art - see here. But sometimes when the comparison monster is running wild and choking out your every creative impulse, it may be time for a reverse prescription: to retreat to a mental cabin in the woods where you're the most talented person for 20 miles in each direction. That's why you came here, that's why you have these dreams in the first place, because you were once a big fish in a small pond and your ideas mattered and you got a gold star. Realism, in my opinion, kills creation. Because what is more cocky and ridiculous than creating art? I mean there are a few things but the bottom line is pretend you're as special as you assumed you were before your reality check. Pull a Bon Iver. Retreat. Make some shit. Your city will be there to tell you how much it sucks or is the next great American whatever when you're done.