Chutzpah and the Writer

Michael Schiavone says in his short essay on Glimmer Train’s website that he would “rather address my irrational fear of being followed (I always run up stairwells for this reason) than announce to a stranger that I’m a writer. The shame I endure should be reserved for ticket scalpers and animal abusers, yet I feel like a sleaze when I confess to being a writer.”

Now this is a writer who has been published in numerous literary magazines and won several contests, who has earned close to $5000 so far this year, and who has an agent “with a New York zip code.” But he fears that he will never consider himself a writer until he has a book on the New York Times‘ bestseller list, an appearance on Oprah and his work is made into a movie. But from what I’ve heard about successful writers, even they suffer from the feeling that they are never quite good enough. They fear that they aren’t quite there yet.

If we could only tell ourselves that we are successful as soon as we set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Because it is a major accomplishment when we are able to put our thoughts into words. Even if no one ever reads them. We need to recognize the sheer brazenness of the act of writing. It takes a lot of chutzpah, which is defined in Wikipedia as a “non-conformist but gutsy audacity.” And that’s exactly what it takes to be a writer.

We are already non-conformists because we assume that we have something new to say. There would be no point to our writing if we were just going to repeat what someone else has written. So we break out of the pack and set our sights higher than the average person does. To do that we need supreme self-confidence or we wouldn’t even try. The trick is to keep believing in ourselves throughout the entire process. We not only need the nerve to start writing in the first place, we also have to have the gall to send our work out for others to read. Even a letter to the editor in your local newspaper causes anxieties we’d rather not encounter–but we do it anyway.

Michael Schiavone titled his essay, “Must I Write?” and he concludes that he has no choice. No matter how anxious or depressed he gets about his (lack of) progress, he knows that he’s stuck; writing is in his blood. It feels almost genetic, the way that an athlete has a body designed for physical activity. Even when we fear that we are not the best writers that ever lived (and who really has that distinction anyway?), we feel compelled to keep on trying to express ourselves through words.

But it goes a step further than that, if we’re honest. We must write because we want to be read. This is the part of being a writer that we are reluctant to reveal to others: our need to be heard. It takes real chutzpah to admit that we want attention, even fame. But what’s wrong with that? What would be the point of writing if we didn’t care about communicating our ideas to others? That means putting ourselves and our words out there. We already have chutzpah or we wouldn’t write or call ourselves writers. So let’s just muster some of that outrageous energy and send our words out into the world. What do we have to lose?