I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately. I’ve been closely examining the world of consumerism and my place in it – particularly where cosmetic and personal care products are concerned. With all the hype surrounding the frightening underbelly of these products, and the industry as a whole (animal cruelty and potentially carcinogenic additives are my top two concerns), I’ve had to ask myself: why do I buy? Do I really need this stuff? I have chapstick, why did I need another one just because it was a round ball instead of a stick? Did the pretty purple casing make it worth the $3.99 I paid for it?
(This is a post about writing, I promise. Bear with me.)
Deep down I know the answer. I always have: it’s the magic of retail. Everything about the industry is geared towards implying promise and possibility. Everything from the models that look like they’re having a lot of fun (doing something that’s totally unrelated to the product, I might add) to the gotta-have-it packaging. They don’t just promise to make you look like something you’re not, they promise to transform you into something else: a better version of you (case in point, how can one be delicious?)! It’s about lifestyle, about attributing a product to a lifestyle that you should want. Buy this product, and you can be this person. It’s like the opening scene of Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Over the last several months I’ve made a conscious effort to evaluate my own consumerism, and the motivations behind it. It’s hard. As much as I know it’s all smoke and mirrors, I can’t help but feel the magnet pull of the promise.
Imagine my shock when I quite inadvertently drew a parallel to my own writing!
Here’s what happened: I walked into a Chapters the other day to purchase a book. Immediately upon entering, the atmosphere drew me in, appealed to the writer and the reader in me. There, in front of me, were shelves upon shelves of books. Words and pages and ideas and possibilities. Friends to be made amongst the pages, lives to be lived. It was like a drug; I swear, I could actually feel the endorphins flooding my veins! Adding to this general aura of literature was the mellow scent of coffee from the in-store Starbucks, and happy, like-minded people browsing, reading, relaxing, enjoying.
I couldn’t help but think, Yes! I am a part of this world. I am a writer, and I belong here! Instantaneously I understood on a subconscious level that here, in Chapters at the Oshawa Town Centre, lay possibilities. Here, just steps away from the East Parking Lot … was a promise.
Just like that fragrance ad.
Here’s the thing: for all the dreaming and promise and magic that Chapters implied, does any of it make me a better writer? Did it inspire me to go home and bury myself in my latest novel project (A Noble Treason, by the way … shameless plug)? The answer is a resounding NO! I went home, flopped on the couch, and ate leftover fudge while watching a rerun of The Big Bang Theory. My life continued on as normal, and I continued to struggle with sitting myself down in front of my computer and drafting my next chapter.
I’m not suggesting that Chapters deliberately set out to dupe me into believing I’m a writer. What I am saying is that they, like the cosmetics industry, know the value of story-telling in marketing, of creating the illusion of a promise without actually promising anything. You can bet that every aspect of that store was carefully laid out and crafted and integrated to offer that illusion, and appeal to that side of human nature that craves the promise.
That’s where the eye-opener was for me. As human beings, we’re dreamers (that goes double for writers, I’d argue). The desire to believe in possibility is hard-wired into our DNA. That’s not a bad thing. It’s what allows us to create, to imagine, to evolve. But the downside is that it’s all too easy to get swept up in the dream, and overlook the real, unappealing work it takes to make that dream a reality. To believe, even, that the dream is some unrealistic ideal that it really isn’t (as in the glamorous lives of the top authors).
My fellow writers, ask yourself: how often have you spent more time on Twitter than you probably should, looking for tweets and posts about writing, about writers, from writers, what have you, and all the while you feel this air of somehow belonging to the writing community? How much time have you spent scouting literary agent and publisher websites, browsing their submissions criteria, and feeling very much a “writer”?
I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you had an in-progress manuscript which probably could have used some work while you were busy wasting time. Am I right? I know I have!
Dreams are great to have, and sometimes we need to indulge in the promise of possibility to inspire and motivate us. But we need to be aware of what this promise really is, and we need to come back to reality, to take writing for what it is: hard, lonely and often incredibly frustrating work. No browsing the multitude of books on Amazon, no immersing yourself in the success of others, will get your book written. The only thing that will get your book written … is writing.
I’m not sure that I had a real point to this post, except to say that I’ve gleaned a deeper insight into my own nature. Just like I’m being critical of my reaction to the retail marketing of cosmetics and personal care products, I will henceforth be critical of my tendency to indulge in the dream of writing, and what I could be as a writer. I am a writer right now. The ideal that I want to achieve doesn’t exist. J.K. Rowling’s and George R. R. Martin’s lives are no more glamorous than that of the beauty model who I’m tricked into believing has some sort of magical existence that I could have if I bought that nail polish.
It’s human nature to get swept away by the dream. It’s in my power to see through it, and rise above it. It’s in my power to keep my eyes open, my head down, and my fingers moving over the keyboard.