Writing in “Real Life”

Before my cohort and my other fellow MFA candidates left from our last residency in June, we were given a final warning by the inimitable Arthur Flowers (see photo, left): “So, what are you going to do? You’re about to go back out into real life, where there’s bills to pay and mouths to feed. … People are going to tell you that you’re chasing a fantasy. People are going to say to you, ‘Just do like the rest of us.’ Don’t you do it. Follow that dream you’ve begun here. Never let anybody tell you that you’re not a writer.”

The truth is, I’ve had to replay this little lecture to myself on more than one occasion. As my teaching gigs and the mundane suburban duties of yardwork and such pile up, I sometimes tend to forget that I am also a poet. After all, the labels of father, husband, and professor seem to hold so many more responsibilities. What’s more, the immediacy of providing for my family tends to obscure the more long-term goal of poetic success.

It is indeed a dog-eat-dog world out there, and poets, like everyone else, are scrambling in a fight to the top: networking, assuming new titles, taking on the challenges of work-home balance, and ensuring that all the parts of life are functioning smoothly. In the midst of all this, it becomes pretty easy to allow writing and those related goals to take a back seat. I even found myself telling my wife recently, “Writing’s not as important as (insert bigger priority here).” And while that may be true, I must remind myself not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Just because life demands greater attention to things of necessity doesn’t mean that I should completely cast aside any and all writing endeavors. And neither should you, reader.

“We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do,” the old saying goes. But occasionally there’s a blurry line between those two ideas. Where the needs meet the wants, in that blurry gray space, is poetry. Yes, I could live without writing. But it would definitely be a sad and colorless existence, devoid of any creative sparks or intrinsic cognitive satisfaction. It is unimaginable and unimaginative. I have no plans to cut out my essence, just as I have no plans to desert my family or my career. Join me, readers, in this persistent striving toward the bigger, toward the better, toward tomorrow. Let us be pilgrims on this journey together. May our walk be filled with abundance, and may our pens never run dry.

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38 thoughts on “Writing in “Real Life”

  1. Wow. I really, really needed to hear that right at this moment. I feel alive when I’m writing and the responsibility of life creates a fog that weighs down my spirit. There are so many naysayers, but after reading this, I’m uplifted and will again carry my pen with pride. Thanks.

  2. It’s difficult with all the day to day obligations, you are correct. Somehow I manage to write a little something every day. They usually turn into blog posts, hopefully one day turning into a book. Nice post!

  3. Same here. I only started a blog at the end of August but I have always loved writing, since a child. I have often written things on bits of paper which have been left in drawers, books etc and I have lost them. I am going to keep going too. This is a brilliant call to arms or pens.

  4. I can now say a professor has said this. I feel justified and not just dreamy eyed. Thank you! Now everyone who doesn’t believe being a creative writer can be important in life can’t bring me down.
    Its refreshing – no beyond refreshing – to hear someone say this.

  5. I asked myself recently: “Why didn’t you write today?” Of course the answer was time. So I made myself some more of it. :) The kids and I are much happier! Congrats on your Press.

    • Definitely. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be in the University of Tampa’s MFA program and be published by fairly well-regarded journals, I’d have called them crazy. Our goals are always changing as well. We get one place, and then discover from there we’d like to go somewhere else. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Thank you so very much for this…I forgot for a long time that I had a Dream, but the will is back! I like your blog and am going to follow from now on.
    Thank you so much for your willingness to share!

  7. Pingback: Writing in “Real Life” « mplittlechildrensstories

  8. “We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do,” and it’s a shame when there is not enough time to do what we have to do, so finding time to do what we want to do turns into a real challenge. Thank you for the inspiring words.

  9. Writing has always been as important as…breathing, to me. But, I didn’t realize it until I was practically suffocating. Great writing. Happy to find another Floridian on WordPress.

  10. I’m glad I read this as someone who fell in love with english through creative writing, and also someone who had been completely illiterate in this third language. (: It’s great to find a balance as I realized recently I abandoned the whole ideology of any creative spark for as you said “larger priorities”

  11. Oh, bless you! This freshly pressed post is so well timed for me! I’m struggling to find time to write as I finish up my Masters in Writing at Johns Hopkins. How ironic that my homework interferes with my writing, as do all the other demanding little voices in my head. Thanks, John

  12. Take, heart, I have a true story for you; As part of my degree I did a creative poetry course last year, I hadn’t written much poetry for the last 20 years or so whilst I did a ‘proper’ day job. I was out of touch with contemporary writing, my poetic style was out date and cliched and I felt like just giving it up for good (as if any writer can EVER just do that!) – and then a poet called Jacob Polley came in to do a guest lecture and just blew me away with his enthusiasm, commitment, and encouragement to the 100 or so students in that room. He read his poem ‘Smoke’ and I sat up and took notice, started scribbling away in my notebook again and wondering if I could ever be anywhere near as good as him or ever be taken as seriously in the same breath. A few months later we both submitted teeny tiny poems to a Zine in a matchbox series here in Brisbane and suddenly I’m in print a few tiny pages away from him. It was a non fee gig but a gazillion bucks could never in a million years have made me feel as good as that small achievement did. The consistent advice from successful poets is write, write, write, never give up and be open to the most unexpected, if not financially life changing, possibilities. Good luck bringing your own poetry to a much wider audience via being Freshly Pressed!!

  13. Reblogged this on Forgive the randomness around me. and commented:
    It is indeed true that there are a lot of important things in life that needs to be done. We have a lot of things that we consider “necessities” when we are speaking of the real world. In the real world, we have bills to pay and mouths to feed, as what Mr. Arthur said. But then again, the real world can’t dictate us what we can or cannot do. We have minds of our own and hearts that tell us what we want as an individual. We should take note of what happens around us thus, not forgetting the things that make us— our passion.
    Poetry is life. Just like other forms of literature, poetry helps us free our expressions and feelings. Poetry relays messages in a fun way. If our passion is directed towards poetry, we should go for it. The real world can’t stop us. Nothing can. If this is our passion, we are incomplete without it. We may live but just like Mr. John said, it will be sad and colorless.
    Therefore, do what makes you happy. Escape the real world if you really must. Enjoy life 

  14. Wonderful post! I loved every word.
    It especially rings true for myself, having friends and family whom none of which are writers or even dream to be. They just don’t understand why I try to find time to write – I ask..why the hell not?
    I’m telling you – one of these days I’m going to create a t-shirt that says “I’d rather be writing”.
    Thanks for the uplifting post.

  15. I was blessed enough to have been at Squaw Valley Community of Writers this summer, and I am haunted by Robert Hass’ wisdom when he said that none of us know how our writing will be viewed, if viewed at all, in 200 years. We just have to write because we have to write, not for fame or fortune. So to poetry and concise sensual expression! Thank you for the post and congrats on your MFA.

  16. I think writing poetry, at least most days, would fall into the category of important, but not urgent. For some reason we tend to deal with the urgent, but not important stuff first. I find when I do make time for the important but non-urgent, (for me this often has to do with goal setting and visioning for the future) my life is enriched. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of making time for creativity!

  17. What a lovely and uplifting post–and realistic too. Life would be dull without creativity and imagination; and in this day and age, it’s just nice to find the space (in every sense of the word) to just sit quietly and write. Anyways, thank you for sharing such beautiful words!

  18. Enthusiasm–that’s the thing! Enthusiasm for life will spill over into our written words, words people long for because they are contagious. Thanks for sharing good words!

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