It’s been exactly a year since I had one of my most difficult experiences as a writer. To fully explain why, I need to open myself up and bring you into my world for a moment.
Writing a thousand words every week is not that difficult. Writing a thousand words that someone will want to read, that will benefit the reader, and that are pulled together with a catchy title isn’t always easy.
In fact, it often seems that if a writer isn’t in the perfect environment all week long, this magic apparition called “inspiration” won’t bother to visit. Believe it or not, this is the case much of the time. I spend 60 hours a week driving a truck in stressful conditions, delivering heavy freight, and dealing with equipment that is so old and in such a state of disrepair that workers wind up getting injured on a somewhat regular basis.
All of which I bother to tell you because when the world drops me off on Saturday morning’s doorstep, with two hours before I have to go pick up my girls, I sit in front of my laptop with a cup of coffee, staring at a screen, and not having a clue what I’m going to write about. Unless, of course, as I mentioned, I have a flash of inspiration during the week. If I can even get the inkling of a halfway-decent title, my creativity will do the rest.
This brings us to this time last year. Driving around the interstates and outskirts of New Jersey, I had an idea: “Five Reasons Women Don’t F*ck Nice Guys.” I will admit, I thought this one had “winner” written all over it. First of all, it had the word “f*ck” in it. You may or may not have noticed, but one can usually get a lot of reads with that alone. I have seen it backfire before, but it’s generally a safe bet.
Second of all, it’s something I would definitely click on, and sometimes that is all we have to go on. The point of all of this is that the title was all I had going into the weekend. That’s usually enough to prime the pump. After that, I am home free.
This may sound somewhat lame to a lot of readers, but there is something deeper in all of this. It is in these situations when I don’t know what the content of the article is going to be where invention is often born. I don’t even know half the time what emotions and feelings are living inside of me until I try to write. Then, I’ll inadvertently hit on something in my heart, and I’m off to the races. My most honest work comes from this exercise.
So even though, at first blush, it may sound as if there is an element of deceit in all of this, there really isn’t. I learned early on as an Elephant Journal writer that it is only when you tell the story you really don’t want to tell—the thing that makes your hands sweat from fear and embarrassment—that people truly identify with you. No matter how artificial the process is to come up with a catchy title or idea, the article will lie there like roadkill unless I have something worthwhile to put behind it.
So, I wrote my “nice guys” article, and it was published. Initially, a few people saw what I was trying to do and appreciated the spirit in which it was done. One writer changed everything, though. He’s a nice guy—don’t get me wrong—but the polar opposite of who I am. The long, flowy yoga pants, the beard, the man bun—on a foggy day, you might even mistake him for Russell Brand. And with that persona, it wasn’t a mystery why he wrote a rebuttal, name checking me and linking my misogynistic and tone-deaf article (my words, not his) in the first paragraph. As the piece continued, he told the story of how he went on a spiritual journey where he lost interest in physical dalliances and concentrated so much on solving world hunger that the universe saw fit to reward him with a beautiful girlfriend and tantric sex on a twice daily basis. (I may be exaggerating that last part a bit…)
Well, his article left mine in the dust. There was an endless array of female readers who applauded him for his refreshing approach of celibacy and altruism, and even more men who were dying to let everyone know that they, too, were able to reach a place of Dalai Lama-ism and also got laid in the process. Then there were women who were congratulating those men. His comment section began to look like the dead sea scrolls with people who were simply disgusted by locker room jocks like me and relieved by mindful men like him.
Needless to say, I was seething. I have been the recipient of some foul, mean-spirited keyboard poison on Instagram and Facebook, but when it comes from inside your “family,” it hits differently. I recently ran across a Bette Davis quote that was reposted on my friend’s Facebook page that so clearly connected to this frustrating writing experience:
“No one on the face of the earth cares about your work as much as you will or should. Even those who claim they love you. They simply cannot love it as much, because it does not live within them or define them. So be prepared to fight. Be prepared to be hated and avoided. Marry yourself to the work. Work never disappoints. Everything else in the world will be found lacking, but you’ll have your work, and you’ll have the scars you received fighting for it.” ~ Bette Davis (interview with James Grissom, 1984)
This incident was the “scar” I was left with, and even though I understood what she was saying on an intuitive level, seeing this quote made a significant difference in how I viewed this event. The way Davis articulated it helped me reassess how I viewed the pain that comes from doing what we love—it moved this idea to the front of my consciousness.
And not to spoil the end of the story, but I survived. And the world went right on spinning.
Besides, if we have learned anything lately, it’s how fickle the social media monster can be. Only last month we watched as many in the Western world were more than happy to abandon the threat of nuclear war and the decimation of Ukraine for discussions about the trauma poor Will Smith suffered in his life. His 350-million-dollar net worth really did nothing to soften the pain, either.
So, like the embattled Zelensky (although obviously on a much smaller scale), I was quickly back to being largely ignored.
That is, until the next week when I submitted something else that pissed everyone off.