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This is How We Spell Success: An Ode to Writers

by Hannah Binder

Point Blank Perspective is a blog addressing common places, events, and experiences that we encounter in life.  These are described in a column-style with a blunt and one hundred percent upfront attitude. 

People love tv.  It’s no secret. Don’t deny it. It doesn’t matter how much you love to read and write, you still love that mindless activity of watching actors put on a story for you to see.  

So let’s talk about television for a minute. You dig the remote out from between the couch cushions or from underneath the reluctant cat’s bulk, in which case you’ve also been rewarded with a glare that’s licensed to kill. Then you turn on the tv. It’s Saturday morning and you’ve got your bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch because on weekend mornings all promises of maturity are off; we revert to our grade school habits. Maybe some coffee is brewing and maybe your roommate, or significant other, or whomever you live with are still dead to the world, and you’ve got a blessed hour or so before they see the light of day and lay siege to the tv.

You tune into one of the many ½ hour episode tv shows approved for the family friendly hour.

On whatever program you’ve selected, let’s say it’s a Tuesday morning.  Mom’s in the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of coffee at her linoleum counter while the early sun peeks in, under some short, ruffled, and muted curtains on the tops of the windows.  There’s a kid or two seated at a table or bar. They’re probably munching on an unrealistically small bowl of cereal–because apparently Hollywood deems 10 Cheerios in a bowl breakfast (like they think people really pay attention to serving sizes).  If the show is a sitcom, there’s probably a neighbor who comes in through the kitchen door at opportune moments. If it’s a drama, there’s probably enough tension in the room for you to bottle and feed the homeless shelters of San Francisco for 6 months.

A minute or two of ‘what’s on the agenda for today’, or tv’s way of giving you an idea of what might be featured in that day’s episode, goes by, then Dad enters.  He’s most likely wearing a suit and he might be on the phone. He’ll come in, grab some coffee, maybe a piece of fruit kept conveniently on the kitchen counter. If he’s not on the phone, he’ll exchange a few words with the kids, kiss his wife, and be out the door.  If he is on the phone, kisses and waves for all will probably suffice.

This is a small part of how we view success: a designated uniform, visible contact with someone from the career, and leaving the house.  That last one is probably the one that gets driven home the most. If you don’t leave the house, you’re not working. That’s what people automatically think of when in reality, a New York Times article written in 2013 (while the success of technology in the home was still steadily climbing) pointed out several studies that people who work from home are, on average, more productive than those that leave to work at an office or other locations.  

Keep this in mind for later.

Back to the show.

If for whatever reason, the successful breadwinner’s job is of importance to the episode in question, chances are that they’ll show him or her with coworkers and/or superiors.  More times than not, an all-too vague and important for unknown reasons board meeting is featured.

To switch media references, the movie The Santa Clause is a perfect example of what success ‘should’ look like.  The film begins with Scott Calvin at a company holiday party.  Speeches are given, a collective award is celebrated, and there’s a sense of comradery highlighted in this image of success.  As the movie continues, these meetings and group scenes are used to show the deterioration and eventual re-established success of Scott Calvin.

I’ll break this down. The second meeting in the movie takes place after our good friend Scott has visited (involuntarily) the North Pole and has begun the Santification process. Our fatter and harrier protagonist attends a meeting where he’s harshly judged by his coworkers (Really? If Scott wants to sample the dessert menu, let him. God Bless America.) and their confidence in his workplace abilities is questioned.

Flash forward to the end of the film and a meeting of sorts is used to show his resurgent success in the North Pole after he’s accepted his role as Santa.  This is really just a gathering of elves that send him off on his virgin voyage on Christmas Eve but the example stands: he’s not by himself. Collaboration= success. That’s what we’ve been told.

This is one of the numerous reasons young people, especially, have been told being a writer is not a successful career choice. So many of us have this idea in our heads that if you don’t put on a uniform, leave the house and go to a job where you convene with coworkers at a water cooler and engage in conversations at a meeting, you aren’t successful.  

Remember that New York Times article I referenced earlier? Well, that same piece reported that a “Stanford study found…the rate at which home-based workers were promoted dropped by 50%”.

Writers look at this statistic and ask ‘what about us?’ You can listen to a thousand blindly optimistic lectures or read as many cheesy quotes about how writing isn’t all about locking yourself in a room for days alone, but instead about a secret community among fellow writers where ideas are exchanged.

People will try to tell young writers that writing isn’t a solitary career, but one that is built upon support that writers give one another. People will tell them that they don’t have to become an isolated hermit. But the kinds of people that often say this think–by no fault of their own, they’ve just been drinking the media-built-success-formula Kool-Aid–that if they attempt to assure aspiring creators that they won’t be alone (something our society severely fears) then maybe they’ll keep writing.


But the problem is that writers, the good ones, the dedicated ones, know this isn’t true. This writer, the realistic and persevering one, might be you. But if it’s not, yet, hang in there. To quote ‘I Love Lucy’: I’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

Writing is solitary. Writing is independent. Writing is in fact the very essence of defying loneliness by creating something on a page that will stay with you until you choose to erase it. No, I’m not telling you to buy a house in the Alaskan (or Maine) tundra and never speak to anyone until you’re a bestselling author.

Writers are independent, partially insane, people. But that doesn’t mean we’re stupid enough to sign up to get eaten by a grizzly and die alone because we told our friends not to bother us, or else ruin the ‘creative process’. We’re not idiots.

But at the end of the day, nobody’s going to write that book/poem/article/essay etc for you. You’re the one that makes something out of nothing. Believe me, I know how daunting it feels to face that truth with obtuse stubbornness and an ambitious attitude.

I know the looks of subdued panic on-the unimaginative and arguably saner percentage of the population-’s faces when you tell them that you fully intend on staking your claim in the literary world–no matter the size of the plot–by sitting at a computer and giving everything you have to hopefully make a few bucks with your words. People fear for your future when you tell them you want to be a writer.

I was 13 years old, a sprite Freshman in high school when I came to the conclusion that I was not going to cut it as a zoologist but was going to become a writer instead. Why? Well that’s the $900 question isn’t it? Why do we choose this career path if the odds are stacked against us in seemingly unbreakable Tetris-like walls? For me, the answer was simple.

I realized one day while I was toiling away in mandatory general ed classes–math teachers and engineers excluded, how often do you use calculus? When was the last time you needed to recall the dates of the Iron Age in your daily life?–that all I really wanted to do was write.

I was terrified to tell anyone of my bold decision because all my life I’d been told–and shown–that writing was a hobby. That’s all writing can ever be, right?

Success isn’t something defined by a uniform or an address or the number of people you convene with on a daily basis. Success is persevering. Success is you taking a creative hammer to the Tetris blocks of odds. Success is you hearing people tell you that you can’t do it and hearing yourself tell them that you’re going to do it anyway, and keeping that promise to defy.

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