To Live or to Write

by Chris McGinty of

We’ve all heard “write what you
know.” If you haven’t heard that then you need to get out and live more. This
is what I’d like to examine here. Do we live or do we write? Well, the answer
is “yes.” The next question is, “How much do we live and how much do we write?”
I hate to pose a question and not have a real answer, but that’s where I am
with this question.

I wrote a few short stories when
I was a teenager, and a few in my 20s and 30s. The part that is interesting to
me is that I tackled a lot more things that I really knew nothing about when I
was a teenager than I do now when I have so much more information available for
research. It means that a lot of what I wrote in my teenage years isn’t really
publishable without an explanation that, “Yes, I know what kind of problems
this has.”
I needed to get out and live. I
needed to have experiences. I needed to learn some things.
Those are all true statements,
but I also needed to write. I learned so much about writing from those early
years. In 2012, I wrote a better version of one of my earliest short stories,
which I’d written when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I’m not sure it’s a good
story even now, but I can read it without cringing. The difference is that in
February 2012 I was 38 years old (I’m 37 now) and I knew better how to focus
the details of the story. I had more life experience to base things on.
When I was 20 years old, I had an
idea for a novel called “The Harsh Reality.” I wish two things about this
novel. The first is that one day I actually write it. The second is that I wish
I’d written it back then. The idea was formed out of a lot of my ignorance of
the world. It was a surreal story, making the title somewhat ironic, and it was
based loosely on my experiences and observations at the time. If I were to
write the novel now it would lose every single bit of unknowing that I would
have faked in my youth.
The problem is that I was out
living my life whether through working or through playing. Every idea that I’ve
had since then has been a result of me being out working and playing. I started
a novel when I was 23 called “The Bowling Alley,” and it now holds the same
issues. I had some wildly romantic notions back then that I would have to get
in touch with again to write it as it should have been.
In 2005… maybe 2006, Nathan and I
were supposed to make a feature length movie in ten days. I say that like it
was a given that it was supposed to happen, but in truth he brought up the idea
and I ran with it. He meant that it was something to do sometime later. I
wanted to do it in ten days from the moment that he said it.
I wrote some notes for a shitty
plot structure, and we did a little bit of work on it. Then it didn’t happen.
In 2009, just before Nathan and I
were about to embark on a project to shoot all of Season Two of “According To
Whim” in six days, I found my notes for the ten day movie. An odd thought
occurred to me, which was to write it as a novel in ten days. It would only
require me to write one page an hour for ten days. So I started immediately. I
wrote 113 pages in the next ten days. I did this while working my guard job
full time and delivering pizza part time. A few months later, I did phase two
of writing the ten-day novel by writing for another ten days straight. I got
less done this time. Finally, I realized that the two year mark was coming up
from the day I had started the novel. I spent the ten days before that
anniversary finishing up the novel. In a weird way, I wrote a novel in thirty
days over the course of two years.
Every single bit of this novel
being written hinged on the fact that I couldn’t stop working long enough to
write it, so it was written as someone whose life wouldn’t slow down for him
long enough for him to get anything done. It’s the only novel I’ve ever
So how much should we live and
how much should we write? I think that’s where being a professional writer must
be so nice. Taking time to write doesn’t cause your paycheck to be smaller. It
may even have the opposite effect.
I think my best answer is this.
Write every day. Complete your projects. By the time I was in my 30s, which has
gone on for a decade and a half now, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been one or two
completed projects away from being a paid writer. It’s difficult to know that
if I hadn’t lived as I have that certain projects I have completed might not
exist, or at least wouldn’t exist in the same form, but that if I had written
more that there may have been something better. It may even have been one of the
books I wrote when I didn’t have the experience to write them well.
What I do know is that the one
novel I have completed exists because I wrote it. I lived some of the
circumstances that formed the basis, but it would be another incomplete project
if I hadn’t drawn the line in the sand and pushed myself to write it.
Chris McGinty is a blogger who is
trying to write more than live for a while. He’s not quite there yet.

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