The email subject was “read the last paragraph first.” When my dad sends me a snapshot of a newspaper article you can bet it'll be Cape Cod Times Sunday column by Dan McCullough.
Here’s that last paragraph:
But then I realize what all true writers understand: That we don’t write for our readers - we write for ourselves. We can’t not write. It’s a wonderful, beautiful, terrible, frightening, delicious, dangerous addiction. I know why the cardinal in the woods around my house sings in the early morning: Because he has to. And so I write on…
This isn’t a novel concept. As Dan says, all “true writers” get this. Most of know how Barbara Kingsolver invites you to close the door and write for yourself alone.
Yes, I am in Dan’s camp. I need to write and I would do it even if it wasn’t part of my self-created job description.
But what about you? Must you write?
I know some members of my community are dedicated, in-it-for-life writers.
Then there are those who love to write but who are trying to make something of that relationship.
There are probably a few of you who like the idea of falling in love with writing but you just haven’t met the right stories yet.
Wherever you are on that spectrum, what does the “I must write” declaration of a white-bearded college professor who looks like he comes from Central Casting’s “Yankee fisherman” department mean to you?
It means “1500.”
Put another way, it means 28.846 years.
Still confused? You had to read what came before that crucial final paragraph. In this piece, Dan was looking back on the experience of writing 1500 consecutive weekly columns for his local paper.
How does that make you feel? Inspired? Envious? Ready to write the guy a permission slip to take a well deserved vacation?
In my case, it has me thinking about how a writing practice illuminates the practice of living.
Dan writes about global events, the peace of the salt marsh, homelessness on Cape Cod, and the experience of watching his son grow. Think of all the observations and wonder and frustration that have been distilled into all those column inches.
Think of all the opportunities he had to ask himself “what do I really think?” and “what must I take a stand for?”
Do you need to commit yourself to producing 1.5 million words or promise to sit at the desk until Saturn takes another run around the sun to reap those sort of benefits?
No. One impassioned journaling session or one quick set of notes jotted down between clients that eventually becomes a blog post that matters to you and to your ideal readers is enough. For now. That’s the thing about writing meaningful content. You want to keep doing it.
Why are you writing?
Creating a body of work that you can be known for is a brilliant goal. Certainly Dan’s long public writing career has been a gift to the people on my beloved sandbar. (And it's a gift for Cape Codders alone. I'm not linking to his full post because I can't - there isn't a trace of Dan's piece on the Cape Cod Times site. Perhaps they seek to preserve a local treasure. Maybe they simply know that the guy sells papers.)
But I do agree with Dan. To keep up a consistent writing practice of any sort you must consider your needs and interests as a writer and a storyteller.
Take it from a man who has been writing since Reagan was in the White House - writing is ultimately a gift to oneself. It is part of the natural expression of who you are, as surely as the cardinal’s scarlet feathers are an expression of its power to fly.
We’ll soon be packing the car and heading to the Cape ourselves. I’ll have limited spots for new writing coaching clients over the summer, so I invite you to take the You, Your Stories, and Your Audience course and get inspired to write into the stories that you must tell.