On being a writer, avoiding the w#nk zone and being true to the craft

Michael Burrill says there’s more to being a writer than drinking whiskey and wearing a waistcoat – it’s about capturing the intangible and uncovering the (often elusive) truth.


Recently, when talking to a fellow writer and neurotic ball of emotions one of her uni classes, “Writing Lab”, came up.

“The class is really wanky,” she informed me “All we do is talk about what it means to be a writer.”

“HAAAAAAAH fuck, maybe I should go to uni after all, I could sit and talk wankily about what it is to be a writer for hours,” I jokingly replied.

I knew exactly what she meant though; there is nothing self-identified writers love more than talking about what it means to be a writer. I won’t pretend I haven’t done it, but a class full of writers constantly discussing the topic sounded like the recipe for a lingering intellectual fart cloud of image shaping and self-mythologising.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking about what it means to be a writer. It seems that some consider it as simple as drinking a lot of whiskey and buying a waistcoat. In my experience, while the whiskey definitely gives you stories and a helpful excess of loathing, it becomes difficult to focus on that vintage typewriter when you’re so hungover it feels as though you may explosively spray from both ends like a shaken coke can. And the waistcoat…well, the waistcoat almost always makes you look like a wanker.

So if it isn’t about Chianski-esque clichés then what? For me, the writer’s job is to capture (or at least attempt to) the intangible. From transcendence (Kerouac’s “IT”) and degradation, to bubbling truths obscured by conventional wisdom or perverse oddities of human behaviour. Anything that helps us to understand existence or each other. Maybe it all sounds a bit grandiose and self-important; it is to some extent. Frankly, while they may occasionally function as great pieces exploring delusion and unfufilled dreams(unintentionally of course), I don’t think the majority of “7 Lame Headings I Came Up With While Procrastinating At My Marketing Job” style articles are bringing any of that to the table.

Whether or not I feel as though I achieve those lofty ideals depends on the day and how shaken my internal coke can feels. Some days, I feel like I’m fighting the good fight, trying to bring something profound to the world as I excitedly email out finished pieces. On others, I feel like a fraud, an ad man with a few more principles. An ad man selling myself as I attempt to convince people I’ll never meet that agreeing with my facile shit makes them interesting or clever. Needless to say, on those days I expect every piece I’ve sent to be met with the reply “HAHAHA YOU’RE A WRITER!?!?! GOOD ONE!!!” As crippling as that self-doubt can sometimes be, it keeps me on my toes and pushes me to be better. For me, it’s another important aspect of being a writer.

Underneath it all, the self-doubt and inferiority complex reveal the base truth of why I write. Sure I want to illuminate truth for the reader, but in the process, I’m searching for it myself. Yes I want to explore and help others understand existence, but most of all I’m just looking for an excuse for my own continued existence, an intellectual fart cloud to linger long after I’m gone. So by that measure, if I provide you with some truth or insight then fantastic, I’ve achieved my goal but don’t let it fool you, like any writer worth a damn I’m just as fucking lost as the rest of you.

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