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?