I Quit School to Write a Novel in English

Painting of a Man Reading

It might sound like a ruinous thing to do, but my social ineptitude and unfavorable circumstances encouraged it. I was heartbroken, depressed, lonely. And I had become fond of rooftops.

Three years ago I dropped out of school to teach myself English and write the biography of Oliver Colors, the moonbeamed painter.

Ever since I built my life around writing. I became a freelance writer, I severed friendships that would have distracted me, I distanced myself from my bothersome family, I locked the door to my room to keep away intruders. I even chose not to become too attached to any woman until I finished my story. (Until the inky woman appeared, that is.)

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet something to this effect:

‘Young writer, since you have asked my advice, I beg you to stop looking outside. That is what you should most avoid right now… Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must’, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.’

Should every aspiring novelist drop out of school/university or quit their job and lock themselves in a shadowy room and never come out until they write a masterpiece? Of course not, especially if you live in an English-speaking country and have literary friends. You’re in a good environment, and in good company. I never had the advantages you have. And I simply cannot write in Romanian. I love hearing and speaking my language, but I hate writing it. It’s the way I am.

I believe that to become a published writer you need to do more than attend writers’ conferences and workshops and read books on writing. All these are what Rilke would call looking outside you. They are fun distractions. They might improve your writing, but they distance you from your own personal story, which in the making of a novel is far more important than writing skill, because it is the magic ingredient that makes your beautiful lies believable.

A highschool dropout with literary ambitions thinks that anyone who wants to be a writer must find their personal story. I am finding mine in a shadowy room, while in the company of Oliver Colors. Your story could be atop a mountain, or in the dusty library of a university, or maybe in your pretty neighbour’s bedroom…

But are you searching for it?

59 thoughts on “I Quit School to Write a Novel in English

  1. Heh. I don’t have the option of dropping out of work and living behind closed doors–I’ve got bills to pay and cats to feed. And I’m rather glad I don’t, actually, I find that the discipline of getting up in the morning and putting in eight hours changing lightbulbs and unclogging toilets helps me to stay focused on my writing goals.

  2. For you, that was the right thing to do…and you have mastered the language of the Bard amazingly well…thank you for sharing your gifts, your highs and lows with us…:-)

  3. After reading your lovely second last paragraph I felt very happy that you shut yourself away to learn English and write. We are all benefiting from your seclusion. However, I think that avoiding women might be a mistake. You only live once.

    1. I am by no means resolved to avoiding women forever!

      Only until I am done with Oliver’s biography, that is for a few more months.

      If all goes well I shall become a boy of fame and fortune, and then I will remember Jane Austen’s wise words…

      ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

  4. From my view..living in shadowy life is not a life..enjoying wht u can’t before..put urself inside others..thats the way u can understand others more right? Getting more idea for ur writing..in other way..ask mirror..^^

  5. Hallo friend! its been forever on the moon-WHICH IS DARKER THAN IT SEEMS FROM DOWN HERE.This is just the piece I needed to read most! I recently found myself in the company of people my age(non_writers), stark submerged in compliments and popularity, But now that fete is over (THE FRIEND i LOVED MOST HAS GONE FAR AWAY WHILE SITTING IN THE SAME ROOM) and i lament not writing about ANY of it.I did an ignominous deed, i ceased writing- even journal entries. I KEPT SECRETS FROM my page and pen! But I WILL retract into myself again, because I FIND i was far braver then, than now. Besides, Vincent Mars is way cooler and sweeter than that chocolate bambii boy.

    p.s. I know this is long, but I so agree with your post,.. it evoked floods from fingers I thought had forgotten to write rivers. 🙂

  6. I am… It feels like this great power cumulating inside of me, pushing me to do something… but… I don’t know what it wants me to do… I don’t know which road to take on this crossroad. Not all roads lead to Rome.

    Your post is however helpful. Thank you:).

  7. I hope your journey is all that you desire it to be and that when you reach the end, you will have discovered all you hoped to discover–from within and without. Great post!

  8. I dropped out of high school twice. The first time I dropped out of high school, I started to read Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” (it later became my bible—I was an atheist at the time) and I started to write some poetry. I think public, private and parochial schools share one thing in common: they teach our kids how to stand in line (conformed to the world). I never did learn how to stand in line—I guess that is one of the reasons why I dropped out of high school—I liberated myself from prison.

    Now I am 52 years old, and I still don’t know how to stand in line. I hitchhiked the United States for 16 years, self-published two books, had one short story and two poems published by Ethos magazine. I also have two blogs.

    I think you have a lot of talent. Keep writing. If you haven’t read Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, you should—I think you would like it.


  9. I’m also an aspiring writer and I think you’re amazingly brave, both to write in English and to take the leap of faith and devote yourself to it. I’m currently in university and of course, I’ve barely written since I got here – it’s difficult and it’s painful. But… I’m studying Romanian among other things and have absolutely fallen in love with the language.

    I’ll just add that One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my very favourite books. It’s hard to read as a writer, though, because it’s just so perfect in every way. Have you read Love in the Time of Cholera?

    Noroc! 🙂

  10. I too write in English although my mother tongue is Spanish, which I love, but I just can’t express myself in it. You don’t sound like a 21 year-old, such wisdom here! I too love 100 years of solitude, and am so thankful for reading it in Spanish, have you read other García Márquez’s stories? I adore him. Anyhow, so nice to meet you! Glad you were Freshly-Pressed!

  11. Okay, this might sound a little strange, but I feel like I know you, already, because I’m like you. I hope that doesn’t sound presumptuous of me. I don’t know. It’s just, I feel like I know, you know? The dreaminess, detachment from reality, dislike of noise and crowds, lack of social graces, love for words and books and reading and writing and solitude. So, yeah. Just wanted to say hello, fellow dreamer. I wish you all the best with your writing endeavors, I truly, truly do.

  12. Few realise English is an intuitive language: the rules are there to be bent, if not completely broken, for the sake of clarity, or for the love of elegance. You might learn the rules at school, but you certainly don’t learn to write. I am not even sure that writing courses and conferences are helpful, I am perfectly certain, however, that celibacy is NOT a requirement.

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