Dear Young Writer,
Right about now, you’re feeling like shit and I’m sorry for that. You’ve cried your eyes out about what had happened to you (I know because so many things have happened to me; every passionate artist–and especially writers–has had something happen to them) and you jumped online, shuffling and running and sitting around and through and in the ghettos and the back alleys of the internet. You’re feeling depressed, rejected, hurt, maybe even suicidal. But most of all, you are tired. You’re so very, very, very tired. And so that’s why you’re relieved to be throwing in the towel, and right now, I completely understand how you feel. It’s a used up, stinking, damp towel, smeared with blood and shit and dirt and god knows what else. This towel has been there fight after fight, hurt after hurt. So you threw it away for good. It’s a fight-or-flight world, kid, and you just found out today you’re not a fighter, at least not today.
I, young writer, am David M. Barnish. You haven’t heard of me, but I have fought battles and wars. I’ve read a billion words and written about two million. And I believe I can help you just a little bit, hopefully. And, I believe you were sent to me. I believe that certain things have a deeper meaning in the fabric of our lives. Split down the middle between total chaos and absolute fate. I am not selling anything, I am not trying to use you, and I don’t know who you are. You mean nothing to me and I mean nothing to you. But I am the best, purest kind of voice there is out here–I am an unpublished and unknown writer. There’s no one here but me and you. No, really, that’s it. And the mere fact that you’ve stumbled on this site means that there’s more God out there than Science because I ain’t done no SEO on this blog and I don’t plan to. (At least not until my agent bugs me to. When I get an agent.). So you’re here. Sit back and read this and I will try and allay your fears. And if, by the end of this post, you still want to quit what you love to do, then by all means, do it. Just let me give you some bullet points.
♥ There is no uglier, nastier word in the psychological language of a writer than the word Compare. From an introverted, nervous, unsure kid of ten to a frustrated, in-flux, passionate man-boy of sixteen to the sexually deprived, short-sighted, undeclared college man of twenty-one to, now, an introverted, nervous, unsure-but-overcompensating old-man-in-a-young-man’s-world passionate and healing writer of thirty-eight, the lesson never changes: to compare yourself to others is to kill yourself a little. Every time you say “something is wrong with me because I’m not like them”, you are grabbing a steak knife and stabbing yourself in the chest fourteen times.
I’m going to tell you, you’re not going to outright accept this. The idea that being different is the painfully wonderful beginning of Personality as a pedestrian Human and Style as a Writer feels wrong because of the way you feel right now because of your rejection. They made you feel that way. But you will accept this. Not yet, but you will. The one thing you can do right now is stop telling yourself there’s something wrong with you for being creative and different and strange and odd. It’s okay to be in limbo. God knows I was for a long time.
The positive aspect of the age-old outside-looking-in metaphor is that you’re outside—an aspect that immediately becomes negative when it’s turned on its head. Embrace your differences, yes, but most of all, let them empower you. True pride and love for yourself to be what others are not. Also, there are mutations to that outside-looking-in metaphor. Some people are inside-looking-around, not knowing how they got in or if they want out at all. And then there’s the worse yet, the poor bastards, of the inside-wanting-to-stay-inside. Don’t be like any of them. Be different. Let your freak flag fly, as Hendrix once sang. I’m not talking about style, not just style anyway. This leads me to my second piece of advice as both a human and a writer:
♥ Don’t be typical. As you grow into high school and college, you’ll notice that there will be rooms within rooms of the vast mansion that is the human race. There’s not just one type of teenager, there’s about seventeen, from what I hear now. So please, by all means, explore. Be safe, keep your head, and have fun. Style is the fulcrum on which your fears and your hopes teeter on. This will be something you’ll be wrestling with all throughout your schooling, since the brand markets out there hit ‘em while they’re young. Searching for your style, whatever the method, is well and fine, at this stage of the game. It’s an easy, physical outlet to your personality, in the way that any other accessory is easy and physical. But eventually, you have to grow out of it. Because anyone can dye their hair yellow or wear sky-blue Chucks or listen to Nirvana’s first album (their real first album) or get wasted at a rock club and jump in the moshpit. In the end, it’s what you do with your mind instead of what you do to show what’s on your mind. I mean, yes, do those things (and you will. Oh lordy, you will).
Because, know, that when the dust settles, when school is done with you and you are done with it, the ‘real world’ begins. And this is a place where you put that empowerment of Self to the test. What your ideas and actions are in the real-world is the true coin-to-gold ratio here, not what you listen to, what your favorite movie is, or how many Frank Herbert novels you can name.
When I say don’t be typical, what I mean is don’t be like everyone else. And what is everyone else? Everyone else is doing just enough to do what they love to make them feel better and not enough of the work involved to make a difference, either to the world around them or at the very least themselves. That’s it. Everyone is doing just enough to make them feel better about themselves but never enough to make a difference. I’m not fucking talking about curing cancer, I’m talking about philosophy and art, about talking about asking yourself what you want out of life instead of what the church, the parents, the TV, or your friends see yourself doing instead.
Because it all evens out in the real world. Out here, there’s no one keeping score. No one–literally, no one–gives a shit about you until you do something meaningful because everyone is doing it too. You will begin by doing what everyone else is doing, but then, with a lot of hard work and effort and a little bit of luck, you’ll be doing what no one else is doing.
Being typical is what happens when a mass of people are given too much freedom off just enough money. Our existence is counterfeited to look like something we need. By being true to yourself, by looking within and around you, by empowering your differences, you’ll already make a difference. Hell, just cutting out soda, fast food, alcohol, and smoking helps out your body enormously, so imagine what exercise could do?
Don’t be a YOLO idiot. You Only Live Once is the battlecry for a generation of young adults who don’t want to do the hard work it takes just to be healthy and clean. Every time you shrug and say Fuck It, and take that hit or take that shot or eat that donut or fuck that person again, you’re clocking in as a typical person again. I’m not saying to never have fun, but understand it’s about moderation. The real world is where too many bright, young minds have met their spiritual demise in the lint traps of Money and Status and Security but most of all, Happiness.
♥ Do not struggle to be understood, struggle to be heard. You are surrounded by simple people that haven’t felt the depths of what you felt or if they have, they are scared or confused by it. In other words, one time in high school, you were known as an ‘art fag’ or an ‘art dyke’. Whether just joking around with kids below, within, and above your class, in the varying degrees of friendship throughout high school and, sadly, college; or from confused and angry bullies, wanna-be bullies, or wanna-be wannabes, with every and all attempts to quickly and cleverly label you and hurt you, within the macho realm of Manhood, you, as an unsure, sensitive, emotional, and “book learnin’” young kid will be accused of one thing in many ways, but their favorite will be to attack your sexuality. And because of this, you will be forced to fight against something you may or may not be (gay) by vilifying it, and accepting and becoming something you most certainly are not (stupid, typical, mean, conformist, passive, etc). Confusion will set in. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or not. It’s the system, kid. A terrible system still implemented today by simple-minded people that says the boys should be the ones to play with guns, be aggressive, speak their minds, and try to get laid by whatever means necessary, and that the girls should be the ones who have feelings and read books and are quiet and play nice. I could go into a whole thing about what True Art does and how it scares most people, but that’s another essay. The point is: watch out for the idiots out there. They’re a lot more of them than there are of us.
♥ You can throw in the towel as long as you keep picking it back up. Story: when you’re just a little bit older, you’ll be sitting at the school lunch table, reading something you wrote the night before, when a kid from another table will snatch it out of your hands, read it, and quickly and loudly laugh at it and you. When this happens, please listen to me: forgive him. Forgive them all. Don’t waste your life hiding who you are or tamping down what makes you unique because the idiots don’t get it. But also don’t plot revenge on them. This is extremely hard to do when you are young, and you will fail at it, but just as you must keep picking up that towel, you must please keep forgiving them. They don’t know any better, young writer. All of them, every rank and file of every army out there that seems to be created by the Devil himself for the sole purpose of stopping you from doing anything you love—forgive them. And then, forget them. And then fuck em. Pick up that towel. It is very difficult to keep creating art when most people keep telling you in either a blunt or an ambiguous way that what you love to do is wrong or is non-profitable or “doesn’t have a readership” or is not a “real Job”. Forgive them. Forget them. Fuck them. Pick up that towel. (And just so you know, you will and you do keep doing it. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.)
♥ The mind is a very powerful thing. As humans, our minds mess with us, changing things around, putting filters on our points of view, skewing our decisions. As artists, our minds fuck with us, telling us we’re no good, that we aren’t special or talented enough to be a Faulkner or a Bukowski or even a Woolf. But as writers, our minds are trying to fucking kill us because what makes literature one of the most satisfying art forms in the history of humankind is that everything takes place in our minds. Using your mind to invent humans so that you get into their minds—is there anything so frighteningly delightful? Even the minds of everyday people are fucked up (since conflict deals with tragedy and tension, all of which drive story. No writer ever sits around in someone’s head unearthing happy joyful and wonderful thoughts, unless we use them to eventually squash them). Dosty’s mind created Raskalnikov and because of that, he was him. In order to truly plumb the depths of guilt and shame and horror and hubris with the kind of skill that Dosty wrote, he had to be that man. There’s no cheat. And with that, you kill yourself a little bit. The point is, if you’re going to kill yourself a little bit, don’t do it by doubting yourself, but by making great art.
♥ Last thing: you are lucky. This pain you deal with? It’s for you and you only. This is the part where your theme song pops on. This is the part where you nod your head and clench your fist and feel that fire burning. And this is the part where you write on. You read and you write. That’s it. Everything else is just Pedestrian bullshit, like folding laundry or going to the dentist. And that’s the real secret, and it’s the dark secret I know all about, so don’t go trying to deny it: there’s nothing in the world you love more than this. THIS. This connection with that voice on the other end of the page and how when you write, you want there to be a connection out there for you too.
The way you get goosebumps when you read your favorite book or that new book that becomes your new favorite.
The way the words seem to take you to another place so well, to carve out for you a whole human in 3D so well, to make you weep within seconds and smile and smirk within hours so well.
The hours you lose that you don’t want to give back because you understand that minutes are the currency you pay for Art.
But also, ironically, the way it does all this by making you worthless to describe even a fraction of it.
And you have that gift. Professional or not, you have that inside of you, that burning and that sparking and that glowing thing called Love of Literature. They will never take that away from you. No one can, in all of history and future Time and Space.
All right, I’ve said enough. I have to get back to the book I’m reading before it gets too dark. There’s lunch to make. Drinks to drink. Sleep to get. My back is better, but sometimes it gets fussy right around this time. I still have to hit the bank.
But first, the book. Always the book first.
It’s just you now. Go be good.
Create and complete.
David M. Barnish