Don’t dream it, be it. And tell everyone.

Charles Bukowski.jpg

I’ve been a writer for twenty years. I’ve written a guidebook, CD and concert reviews, sports reports, loveletters to lyrics, political essays, travel stories, wistful love stories, a play, a film script, treatments for videos, hundreds of blog posts and I am halfway through an epic novel. 

But I never told anyone that “I am writer.”

When asked ‘what do you do?’ I always replied with something wafty about marketing, or brand, or communications, because that’s what I get paid for. I got paid (a tiny amount) for the guidebook, but I wasn’t a writer because that’s not how I made my living. 

Until last Christmas, when I accidently blurted it out to an old lady I got chatting to in the pub.

“What do you do then?”

“I’m a writer”

(I blinked as I said it because it felt like a lie.) 

“Oh really, wonderful. What do you write about?”

“I write about love and music and travel for pleasure, and I write about technology and business for money.”

“That’s lovely dear. It must be lovely to do what you love for a living….”

Yes ma’am it is, I thought.

And right then, I realised that it wasn’t a lie at all. I wasn’t trying to impress her, and I wasn’t trying to imply that I was something more glamorous than I really was. But saying “I am a writer” felt like a huge statement of personal intent that I had been suppressing for years. I’ve always dreamed about being a writer, without realising that I already was.

I may have misremembered this, but when asked for advice about how you could become a professional photographer, I think that it was the celebrated photographer Don McCullin who said this:

“Take pictures, and then get business cards printed with your name, and underneath put ‘photographer’. Don’t talk about being a photographer. Be a photographer.”

It’s a strong and simple message. Start doing it, and start saying that that’s what you are — say that’s who you are.

Today’s business card is a website or a Facebook page. For the price of a round of drinks you can put up an online shop showcasing and selling your pictures, paintings, sculpture, music, books, spoons, carvings, tapestries, furniture, or dance routines.

It doesn’t matter if you take a friend’s wedding pictures for mates-rates at the weekend. You are a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you drive a taxi by day to pay the bills, if you play sax by night, you are a musician. 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t make any money at all, that is not what what defines you — you’re defined by what you do.

There’s a very long list of famous artists who did shit jobs to fund their art. The poet Charles Bukowski famously worked in for the US Postal Service but he was always, in his own mind, a writer not a postman. 

‘Just start!’ is one of the mantras of the Do Lectures for good reason, because Creative Entrepreneurs are exactly the same as artists. The first step to is to start doing it, and the second step — to be taken immediately after the first — is to start saying to the world, ‘This is me. This is what I do.’

If you’re not writing you can’t be a writer, but as soon as you are, you are.

In wise the words of Frank N Furter, ‘Don’t dream it. Be it.’

A good post script is Charles Bukowski’s poem, So you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.