Being a writer, at heart, means you always have a nagging feeling that you're leaving something undone, incomplete. Like a hungry child who's forced to leave food on the table or an alcoholic who has to leave wine in a glass, that raw nagging, gnawing feeling, the yearning, remains.
Being a writer means no matter how materially successful you are, how cushy your "real" job is, how many weeks vacation you have or the size of your boat, you feel a fraud. You can't relax. You don't take a deep breath and look around and sigh, “Ah, I've made it!” because you know, just below the surface is a story that must be told, that must burst forth, that in your mind, your fingers, your soul is a story that might somehow, someway touch someone and make your life worthwhile. For why else, would God, the Higher Power, the Master of the Universe, why else would He or She enrich you with this gift, this drive to put words on paper or font to the screen? It's a calling that must be followed or forever regretted.
And it's an odd one. Musicians seem to pick up a guitar and let it play, to make music and joy, but writers are a different lot. We fight it. We want it, yet we are terrified we’ll lose it. It's our identity, yet we resist it. We downplay it. We force it to be quiet when it compels us to pull out an envelope to jot down a phrase, or when we are introduced to a person, and we roll her name around in our minds to see if it would fit a character. A character we have in our heads, as we appear here but not here, living in a world all to our own, feeling guilty for not sharing it, the stories we make up as we go. We see the couple in front of us at a concert and come up with ten different scenarios for who they are, why the wife seems so weary, why the husband seems to be trying to hard, their background, their future, we see it, all in a span of a song. Yet we push it away. We do the laundry, cook breakfast, nag ourselves and make plans to do it tomorrow while the compulsion bubbles beneath the surface threatening to erupt.
Then, suddenly, we look at the screen where we passively sit and watch other people’s lives, and we see that one of our writer friends has done what we only dreamed, they published something, a book of essays, a work of fiction, a newspaper column, and we profess happiness, but, deep inside, we hear our voices saying: I can do that. I should be doing that. Why am I not doing that? Am I lazy? No, the effort it takes to resist writing is far more than it takes to actually put pen to paper. Is it fear of failure? I don't really think so because it's not success I care about. It's getting it out, it's telling it, so I can be free and breathe and know that when I meet my maker that He'll look at me and say, “Well done.”
Because, to a writer, hell would be getting to the end and having God shake his head in disappointment, and my having to look down in shame, knowing that I squandered it, this special gift He entrusted to me, and others like me, and that my story, your story, our story would be buried with me.
That would truly be a life unlived – and nothing to write about.