You Don’t Have to Write or Die – You Have to Write and Live

When I think of the isolated, long-suffering, genius Writer (with a capital W in air-quotes), I think of Hemingway.

He devoted himself to building his own mythos. From a young age, he aspired to be a Great Writer so he created a tragic, heroic figure that none of us should ever really want to live up to.

He also helped facilitate many unfortunate writer myths – one of the most virulent is that a writer must “write or die.”

This message bores me. It scares me. And it makes me angry for some strange reason.

The mere expectations around the figure of a “Writer” are often so unrealistic that they create performance anxiety before there’s ever even a chance to perform.

It’s so damn scary that it keeps would-be writers petrified in a net of fear.

I know. It happened to me. Sometimes it still does.

I never used to call myself a “Writer.” I didn’t like that word. I called myself “someone who writes.” And eventually, I came to ask myself what would happen if I could just be a writer – no narcissistic quotes necessary.

Writing Is A Verb


I finally realized that writing was a verb, literally. If I wrote somewhat regularly with serious intent, I could legitimately call myself a writer. No air-quotes necessary.

I never looked back.


But what does being a writer really mean, when it’s divorced from the ideas of greatness, suffering, genius, and heroism?


The truth is, I don’t know.

I suspect it means something different for every writer out there.

But if I had a guess, it would mean something along these lines:

  • It means that you’re simply a “writer” because you write stuff. Regularly and with serious intent. See Marion Roach’s discussion on the importance of writing with intention.
  • It means you can be a regular person, with all your crazy-messy complexity and that sometimes, regularly in fact, you sit down to engage in the act of writing.  And that’s all. It’s quite simple.
  • It means you might have goals, dreams or ambitions around the act of sitting down to write. And this is good. But you don’t have to. Perhaps your goal is to feel pleasure when writing. Or, to give pleasure to readers. You know, good old-fashioned entertainment. A sweet story. A good yarn. Or, perhaps something only you will see.
  • When you think about sitting down to write, you’re filled with excitement, not dread. Because the process itself is full of adventure and joy.  And because all human beings crave this feeling more than anything, you do it more and more.
  • When you sit down to write, you might willingly enter into a lightness of heart for no other reason than because writing feels damn good.

Lovely. Delightful, even.

This goal is more than OK – it’s good. In fact, it’s eff-ing great.

So go for that.

Trade the heavy ghost of Hemingway for a sweet sprite making daisy-chains in the rain.

Trade genius for joy.

Trade greatness for the beautiful mystery of moment.

Trade should for could.

Just be a writer. And see what happens.





Showing 5 comments
  • Juneta

    I love what you said here and I agree. Life is but a season, hang on to the joy, while it is your to catch.

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