My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Lesser Writer (Mailbox)

I feel like I'm the "lesser writer" oft spoken of.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Let me assuage you that there is no magic to writing.]   

Serena asks:

Hello Chris. I know you likely get thousands of messages a day, but I hope that you see this. Your page means a lot to me.

I'm struggling at the moment with feeling like I'm the "lesser writer" that reviewers refer to in their patented "In the hands of a lesser writer" line.

Advice? Thoughts? I'm willing to have this post made public if you're willing to publish it!

My reply:

Thousands?  Maybe more like ten to twenty on a busy day. But when they're all asking me for free editing or why I do transcriptions, it can feel like thousands, so let's go with that. (I'm hoping to use "Do you know who I am?" on the host staff at The Olive Garden later if the wait is over fifteen minutes, and this is exactly the inflating pep talk I need.) Anyway, my outrageous fame and thousands of messages about free feedback are exactly why I'm so excited to get interesting questions that I'm not only willing to publish, but that actually keep the lights on around here.

"In the hands of a lesser writer...."

Let me start by saying that the way the world (and even writers themselves) talks about writing and writers does an incredible disservice to writing and writers.

If you're a musician, everybody knows you have to practice for years before you can go join the symphony or make enough money on tour to have dental insurance. And we're not talking years of one hour a week either.

If you're on a theater stage professionally, there is probably a 90% chance that you have an MFA in theater arts, which represents at least seven years of hardcore training....and that's if you didn't start in junior high. Outside of sheer inter-industry nepotism, the amount of time actors spend before getting in front of a CAMERA is comparable (if they do not straight up have a theater background).

If you're a visual artist (painting or sculpture), it will probably be years of doodling, sketching, playing and creating projects before you get a piece of work in a gallery or an installation in a festival, and years more before you have your own show.

Architecture...?  A five-year degree and ongoing education with probably a decade of experience before getting to design a building that's bigger than a Mellow Mushroom or more interesting than someone's conversion of a garage to an inlaw unit.

But for some reason with writing, we don't talk much about the work. The long, shitty, unpaid hours that every artist goes through get sort of glossed over with the writer, and we talk about writing like it is an innate ability that one either has or doesn't.  Are you a "lesser" writer? Or a "greater" writer?

And never the twain shall meet.

But the twain do meet. The twain get together for lunch once a week, and sometimes the twain get a hotel room at the Radisson afterwards and spend the afternoon....uh entwained. Because we were all lesser writers once. And the liminal space between is vast and messy.

Maybe it's because you don't SEE writers doing their shit for years in the form of all those tossed manuscript drafts and rejection letters. Maybe it's because the writing MFA is not as vital to critical or commercial success as theater MFA or as non-negotiable as a degree in architecture. Maybe it's a certain sprezzatura that writers employ, obfuscating the tremendous effort behind what they make look easy.

If you're feeling like "the lesser writer," the best advice I can possibly give you is to keep writing until you're not a lesser writer anymore. Keep reading, keep writing, and remember that all writers who got an "in-the-hands-of-a-lesser-writer" review were themselves once LESSER WRITERS.

They just didn't give up.


  1. I read that comment about architecture to an architect grad.
    Ouch. You nailed it.

  2. visual artist here. After hundreds of paintings I started selling them. After thousands of paintings I find that selling is business and I would rather be painting so I teach to make the $