I was talking yesterday to someone close to me who was baffled that I still plan to write a novel at 50-years-old. The person, who I love very much and who I know loves me, was asking questions such as, “What makes this time different than all the others?” and, “Do you think it’s time to give up this goal that seems to just eat at you year after year?” I felt crummy after we hung up the phone. I wasn’t mad that these questions were being asked, as I knew they were fair. I have been yammering on for decades (really since childhood) about the fact that I was going to write a book someday. So, it’s only natural for those closest to me to ask, “If not now, when?” and “When is it time to call time of death on this thing?”
I know I’ve run out of excuses (writer’s block, fear of failure, lack of time) and that I’ve got to determine once and for all how badly I want it. How bad do you want it?
I did what I always do when I need inspiration. I turned to YouTube. I found a wonderful interview with American Rust author, Phillip Meyer, whom I’d never heard of before stumbling on the video. His thoughts on writing mirror my own so closely that we could easily be friends. The biggest difference, though, is that Meyer does while I daydream. Of course, I’m planning to change that now, as I have just over a year to reach my goal of writing my first novel at 50. And if I don’t? Well, like Meyer, writing is an animal in me. It’s always been there, and I may have to eat crow when I don’t finish the manuscript by the eve of my 51st birthday, but I will never lay down the writing dream. Mainly because I can’t. I simply can’t give it up any more than I can stop talking or sleeping. It’s part of me.
Summary of Phillipp Meyer: Art is an Animal Inside Me
Phillipp grew up in a rough neighborhood with intellectual parents who were strapped for money. Because of that, he had something of a dual personality. Inside, he was sensitive, intellectual, and interested in books and art. But outside on the streets, he often got into fights, and witnessed the hardships of his friends’ families.
Meyer dropped out of high school, and never understood his friends when they worried about what to wear as a writer, how to act as a writer, or what to read as a writer. He says, “I just knew I had to write.” His only question was, “How brave am I going to be? How much am I going to let my fears and insecurities govern my behavior?” He ended up going to college and writing some “unreadable” novels before taking a job in finance.
After about three years, Meyer realized that the only thing that made him happy was writing, so he quit his bank job to write full time for a year. When nothing happened, he moved back in with his parents so he could work “three quarters time” compared to full time, driving an ambulance, and working construction jobs remodeling houses.
Meyer was sure his second book would make him famous, but says it was mediocre. He wrote short stories, which got him into graduate school. At this point, he was 31, and had been seriously devoted to his writing for ten years. For three years, the university paid him to write short stories, and eventually, he published American Rust.
The goal, he says, is to never stop writing. Meyer explains that as a writer, you just keep lying to yourself saying, “If it doesn’t work in one year, I’ll quit” and then if it doesn’t work, you just make another promise to yourself because when writing is a part of your identity, you cannot give it up no matter what success you do or do not experience. By the time American Rust was published, Meyer says he was a fully formed artist, and that the goal was making sure no one else affected his work. “It was keeping the voice of critics out, the voice of teachers out, the voices of other writers out.”
Becoming secure in who he was as a writer was not fast or easy. It required “fifteen years of failing” for him to get to the point where he refused to become unglued when someone had negative feedback, whether it was a famous critic or someone he knew personally.
American Rust took Meyer three and a half years to write, and his novel, The Son, took five. He says that in the end, the person you have to be pleasing is yourself since writing a novel can take years of your life to complete. No one may read the finished product other than yourself, so he cautions that you may as well write about what interests you, even if it is something challenging or foreign to you at the beginning.
By reading extensively, Meyer says writers can find the style that fits the philosophy or the ideas you’re trying to communicate. “My interest is always in communicating the emotional truth or emotional reality of a moment or a scene or a time to the reader,” he says. Artistically, praise that compares a writer to one of his or her idols can be just as damaging as criticism. “When you’re worried about what other people think, you’re done.” Meyer reiterates that his writing is so much a part of who he is, that it’s impossible to deny it’s expression. He says, “There’s something inside me that’s an artist, and I don’t know why. I have to listen to it. It feels like if I didn’t do that, I’d destroy myself. It’s like an animal thing that has to be let out, and the only way to let it out is by making art.”
I felt a lot better after watching this video. It made me dig into my inner resolve that I am a writer. Whether I get a novel published or not. Whether anyone reads my work or not. Whether I have days I feel like chucking my work in the trash, or everyone around me is losing faith in my abilities. I. Am. A. Writer. There is no denying it or taking it off like an unwanted coat. It’s in every fiber of my being, and has been since I was old enough to hold a pencil.