On being a writer

Happiness is the key to life, the rest will follow.

Some form of that phrase adorns a Good Luck! greeting card or punctuates a graduation speech every year. Writers I’ve spoken with love this job. With exceptions, writers I’ve read do not.

There’s a standard image of a miserly writer alone, laboring at her craft. “Secret Window” was scary for a reason.

Author Paul Theroux goes off the ledge to quote V. S. Pritchett: a writer “who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing.”

Or worse than nothing, a hollow shell of a former self, engulfed in drugs or booze.

“Writing is such a solitary act,” says Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. He explains that self-destructive acts, like writing, beget other habits of the same variety. Cheers, Hemingway.

Some studies have found that meaningful experiences (acquiring a new skill, for instance) make people happier than pure pleasure.

That is to say, a cupcake tastes better than eating a handful of sugar cubes.

Each new article is akin to acquiring that new skill. In a given week, I must research and learn the culture of different worlds: Civil War reenactments, local vineyards, national airport traffic numbers, military bands.

I’m not sure what these sad sacks are blubbering about.

Music, fiction, poetry — that writing is cross-training for journalism. It allows me to play with language, discover how words interact, how narratives flow.

Imagine studying three beetle species: you gain knowledge about the essence of a beetle from each, despite their differences.

Maybe these writers need to drop the closed-door act and grab a safari hat.

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