Home : Are You Living the Writer’s Life?

writerWriters and publishers generally talk about selling books, choosing a path for printing and distribution, the importance of professional editing and design, and technical matters pertaining to grammar and style. But what about the path one takes to become a writer? Certainly, we must all learn about semicolons and apostrophes, but that journey is often inspired by an earlier and more profound one. From whence comes the call to translate vivid life experiences and ideas—the sublime, the horrific, the transcendent, the transformational, the imagined—into a form that can be shared? What does it mean to live the writer’s life—as opposed to the publisher’s?

katieandjessieonaboat.comA friend recently suggested I take a look at KatieAndJessieOnABoat.com, a blog created by Katie Smith and Jessie Zevalkink—two young women making a long journey on a small boat. After turning a fixer-upper sailboat into a humble home, they made their way from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi and its tributaries to the Gulf of Mexico. Destination: across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Their site is a chronicle of their thoughts, adventures, friends and photographs gathered along the way.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, I took off in a small sailboat with an even smaller amount of money to go find my own stories. I had remarkable experiences cruising solo in the Bahamas and crossing the Atlantic to Gibraltar. I had some of the best and worst times of my life on those voyages and today, I look back on my past without an ounce of regret over things I “should have” done.

Dave Bricker 1989Those were days before GPS and the Internet, before digital cameras, before Facebook and Flickr. I took photos (remember 35mm film?) and even created my own tongue-in-cheek edition of “Captain Dave’s Nautical News,” but recording and sharing my adventures was much more difficult then than it is today. Nevertheless, I had some inkling, even as a young man, that I would one day wish to write about my journeys. With that in mind, I took a few more chances and explored a few more blind alleys. “What can I do today that will be worth writing about?”

conscious breath adventuresBefore those voyages, back in the late 70s, my high school friend Gene Flipse introduced me to boating and Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Today, Gene runs Conscious Breath Adventures—one-week excursions to the Dominican Republic’s Silver Bank to swim with migrating humpback whales. His weekly cruise reports offer astounding views and descriptions of whales in the wild.

Katie and Jessie and Gene offer an important reminder for those of us who spend countless hours marketing our prose. The writer’s life—or at least a critical part of it—is not about publishing. The writer’s life is about stepping off the sidewalk, paying attention to details, and placing a certain amount of faith in the premise that because you survived all the days preceding this one, you’ll likely survive whatever you encounter today. Why not go for it? The writer’s life is about living a life worth writing about—even if you never set pen to paper.

soldier key 2013Two decades after my sailing voyages, I’m still tapping away at the keyboard polishing up my old stories. But a few months ago, I decided I’d been away from the water too long and I bought myself a fifteen-foot open sailboat. It feels good to be out there having aquatic adventures again—even if they don’t span months and thousands of miles.

Your adventures may be different—not smaller, but different: parenting, adopting a stray animal, losing your job, starting a career, getting lost in an unfamiliar town, having a vivid dream, getting married, getting divorced, going blind, inventing something important that nobody will pay attention to—but these experiences are the stuff from which great literature is made. Publishing is a great adventure in itself and a noble endeavor, but of all its dangers and pitfalls, perhaps the greatest is the possibility that the demands of turning our books into products might distract us from the far more important process of having experiences and turning them into stories.

As the old saying goes, “you’re either talking about it or you’re doing it.” As your story transitions from experience to manuscript to book, don’t forget to live the writer’s life. There is none better.


Are You Living the Writer’s Life? — 22 Comments

  1. Well said. I far prefer reading writing–whether it be non-fiction or fiction–by someone who’s been there, done something, gone through experiences, faced trials. That type of writing has a presence, as well as a weight to it, that isn’t matched by the stuff that you just know was written by someone who’s only experienced the subject he or she is talking about second-hand through seeing it depicted in TV shows or films. I do fear that today’s authors, in their rush to become self-marketers as well as be writers, may not be spending enough time putting the hard work in on the streets, paths and oceans where the good stuff can be found, and that they instead spend too much time behind a computer or fiddling with a smart phone.

    • That’s very reinforcing and inspiring comment which would certainly help me to hold my course as a writer, I think.

  2. Thanks. I hadn’t really framed it like that before. A very different journey and one sometimes hard to explain to others. But yes, an adventure, no regrets, and some amazing stories. I’m living the life, stumbling towards ecstasy, as they say 🙂

  3. I’m about to embark on the third (and last) journey to see all the Vermeer paintings in the world. Only 9 paintings to go! And I’m writing a book about the experience. I’d appreciate suggestions for a suitable title. ‘Chasing Vermeer’ is out (already taken). I’m considering ‘All the Vermeers in the World’, ‘The Vermeer Mystique’ and ‘Finding Vermeer’. Any suggestions?

  4. Dave, brings back memories to our first meeting in the Azores in 1991. It is so great to have been there when so many of our dreams were incubated. It truly is about what is important. On the flip side, when the chips are down, if its not going to be reported in the history books, its not that important. Let it go and focus on what is, and with whom its important. As a twice published author, we do not remember the rewrites and the rejection letters as we sweetly recall the adventures that brought us to those countless months behind the computer putting it on paper, re-living the dreams that we turned into our realities with recording, and an important part of our lives as writers, are the people we touch who share their experiences as they identify with us. Its not what we say to people, but how we make them feel through what we convey that counts.

  5. Roy H. Williams’ Monday Memo this morning was about how we appreciate things more if we’ve worked for them. I read it right after I read your post, and I was struck by the fact that this applies to life, not just stuff.

    When we work at life, we appreciate it more. As you say, maybe it will never end up in print, but making life an adventure is so much better than making life a job.

    And thanks for giving me the phrase “writer’s life” because until now, I knew what I had was more than just a life, but I didn’t have a name for it other than “mine.”

  6. Dave, once again you’ve given me something important to ponder. I think I’ve let the publishing greatly overshadowed my “writer’s life” and now I want it back!

  7. Writing seems to be about trying to make sense of it all – and the ‘all’ is everything that has happened personally and to other people – writing and creating somehow gives shape and order to experiences which can otherwise seem baffling, bewildering or overwhelming – both negatively and positively.

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