Guest Post: The fun part about being a comedian is having comedians as friends. Our guest today is Gavin McCaleb, a funny guy with some stand-up HERE and a bio HERE. Find him at http://GavinMcCaleb.com. I appreciate Gavin sharing his story with us. Today is not stand-up. Like the old adage says: it's funny because it's true.
I read writing blogs like this for breakfast. Literally. While I'm eating oatmeal (also for breakfast) I like learning tips about "story," and "character," and "grammar." I have consumed so much helpful reference material that I have absolutely no excuse for what I have become...
My name is Gavin McCaleb and I am a writer. I first realized I was a writer in the spring of 2000. It was very sunny, but still cold. That's just how Utah is, I guess. I had a hot girlfriend at the time who just dumped me for no good reason. I was about to graduate with a useless degree in psychology, and I had no employment prospects. In hindsight I should have studied business or engineering or computers, or anything other than psychology. As my Philosophy 101 instructor observed, "philosophy bakes no bread." I would add that "psychology brings no delicious meatballs." So, yeah, I was hungry. Food service was becoming a solid option.
I bumped into my hot former girlfriend on campus a few weeks after the breakup and she asked what I was going to do after graduation. I told her I was going to be a writer. I assumed that would win her back immediately. She patronized me, saying "good for you." I laughed inwardly, and bit my lip, knowing that I would inevitably be the Papa Hemingway to her [insert appropriate female Hemingway love interest. Mariel Hemingway, maybe? I don't know. Historical fiction is not one of my interests.] Anyway, one thing I forgot to tell you about me, is that I can bide my time like a son of a gun, so I said "see you around," chuckled to myself, and settled in for a long siege.
One thing an otherwise useless college degree will teach you, is how to study. To begin my illustrious (nay, lugubrious) writing career I read some books about writing. I read Stephen King's On Writing. and Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Each being the only work I have read by either author. Pages were turned. Lessons were learned. Then I sat down to write. Nothing came out. So taking the lessons I had just learned, to write whatever comes to mind. I began: "Here I am sitting at the computer writing. Yep, just typing away at the ol' keyboard. Looking good so far. I'm interested to see what happens next..." (These ellipses metaphorically extend to infinity.) I guess I thought I would just plop down and bang out a book?! What audacity! Well, nothing of substance emerged, and a few more attempts were similarly fruitless. It wasn't long before all plopping ceased and consequently, no book was banged.
Fast forward twelve years * Schwing! * (That's how time elapses for me.) I found a different hot girl to marry, and I sort of fell into the real estate profession. I always felt like an outsider in business. As if I was just pretending to be in real estate, because, well, I'm actually a writer. Right? Well, this is what I've written to date: content for several websites, a few articles for trade newspapers, advertising and marketing copy, facebook posts, facebook comments, a ton of emails. Uhhh, grocery lists. Crap. So here I am, a writer who never wrote anything worth a diddley.
The last two years I have 100% tanked the NaNoWriMo program. Word counts: 0 and 0. About 15 days before the month begins I start to feel nervous. My fear is that I will write something horrible and shameful. This fear causes me to go through all the stages of grief - simultaneously! Then the first day of NaNoWriMo comes and I think, "I'll just skip the first day to get over my nerves, but I won't fall to far behind in word count." That goes on for about five days before I finally officially let myself off the hook. The feeling of relief is palpable. After the second wrestle with the WriMo rhino I went ahead and psychoanalyzed myself. (that degree in psychology isn't going to psychoanalyze itself. Or, wait? What? Whatever, just go with it.) How can a person identify himself so strongly as a writer and yet never actually produce any writing? After sufficient reflection I eventually came to terms with my issue, summed up thusly: If I write my best and it turns out no good, then I have completely failed as a writer and I would have to build a new identity. But if I never actually do it, I can still tell myself everyday that I am a writer with the potential to write something great. This my friends is a terrible seat to be sitting in.
At some point, I don't recall when or where, I came across an article by Michael Ventura called The Talent of the Room. (http://www.michaelventura.org/writings/LA4.pdf) It haunts me to this day, because having the information it contains removes any excuse I have for not producing. It lays bare the device of my faulty self identification. While all the while I felt a writer at heart, I have failed to do the one thing that would cause it to be so. Sit and write.
(I did not ask Gavin permission to use this picture of him wearing a pink boa)