Dear Young Writers,
You know who you are. You are a true writer. You’re reading this on your phone, computer, tablet, or maybe a soggy newspaper you found in a gutter.
Maybe you’re in college or in high school. Maybe you’re a middle-schooler with an exceptionally grandiose vocabulary. Maybe you’ve written to me for advice. God help you.
Either way, you’re a writer. You know you’re a writer, deep inside. So I’m writing back. Because you’re confused. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life. You’re embarrassed to talk about it. You’re lost.
Writers are viewed as oddballs in our American culture. And it’s a shame because it’s not this way everywhere.
In Europe, for example, if you tell someone you’re a writer, the Europeans get dreamy eyed and converse about “War and Peace” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”
But in America, when you tell someone you want to be a novelist, they look at you as though you have just broken wind in church.
To many people, saying you want to be a writer is like saying you want to be an astronaut. “Don’t quit your job!”
Thus, I am going to share with you a few thoughts about the field of professional writing. Things many writers don’t want you to know. Such as, how to find a complete three-course dinner by rummaging through the municipal garbage.
Because, you see, professional writers are sort of like stage magicians. It’s all an act. These “magicians” continually try to pull literary rabbits out of their hats. Only, instead of calling them “rabbits,” they obsess over whether they should use the word “bunnies,” “hares,” “cottontails,” “lagomorphs,” or in extreme cases, “chinchillas.”
So the first thing I can tell you about writers is that none of us know what the heck we’re doing. This is true for every single writer alive. Don’t trust any author who says they know what they’re doing. They are full of chinchilla.
Writers are not nuclear engineers. We confusedly type words on a page. We haplessly think up crappy plots. Then, we reorganize them. Rework them. Redistribute entire paragraphs. We try to correckt mispelings.
Then we hit the backspace button, delete six hours’ worth of work, and attend our scheduled mental health therapy appointments.
Number Two: Writers are also stupid.
I mean this with all due respect to my colleagues. But it’s true. We are all—each one of us—about as bright as a box of hamsters. I’m not saying we’re the dumbest people who have ever lived. But I’m telling you, we are not exactly the quickest lagomorph in the forest.
I say this because the American misconception, of course, is that “true writers” are freaking geniuses. Which is bologna.
I know one professional writer, for instance, who is well-respected in the world of American literature, regarded as a true artiste by the mainstream world. He cannot figure out how to empty lint from his dryer without calling a repairman.
Yes, writers occasionally write some smart stuff. But this is all part of the big illusion. Whenever a writer writes something truly smart, it’s usually because he or she has either (a) stolen it from another writer, or (b) a cat has walked across the keyboard.
I’m not saying writers don’t have original ideas, they do. I’m only saying don’t be too impressed. Don’t buy into the myth that your literary heroes are above you.
Number Three. Do something else with your life. Get a real job. I’m not saying don’t write. In fact, quite the opposite. But don’t JUST be a writer. Or else you’ll have nothing to write about.
Go do stuff. Be a human. Join the real world. The best writers are not the frozen chosen who sit upon the sacred throne of academia and squat out Pulitzer Prizes. Good writers have experiences. They live real lives.
Then, when they are thusly inspired, they sit down and write grossly irresponsible and exaggerated accounts of it all
Therefore, do something fun. Get a weird job. Learn to play an instrument. Go see the United States at eye level. Meet wonderful people. Eat bizarre foods. See new things. Fall in love.
Don’t worry about trying to be great. You won’t be. You’re probably not going to write anything worth a cuss until you’re 85 years old anyway. I haven’t.
And even if you do accidentally write the Great American Novel, or win a major journalism award, here’s another secret you will learn as a professional writer: Nobody cares.
That’s right. Nobody cares how many accolades you wipe your nose with. In fact, nobody in this world cares all that much about your successes or your failures.
And believe me. Your life will be much easier if you don’t, either.
Ed (Bear) - September 3, 2022 7:04 am
I care and so do you.
Beth Fenn - September 3, 2022 9:43 am
Winston Brown was well written and heart warming. There are enough naysayers out there. Don’t be their leader! I love your daily wisdom. Lived in Pensacola for several years, so I enjoy your panhandle references! I also love that you were a Lewis Gizzard fan. We still grieve him! God Bless you, you are a breath of fresh air! Beth Fenn, Brent, AL
Leigh Amiot - September 3, 2022 9:47 am
Detaching from the care about successes and/or failures is easier said than done, particularly for a writer as their work is a literal piece of their heart. The tips under number three resonated, plus you used the word “thusly”.
Debbie - September 3, 2022 9:49 am
It doesn’t take a great novel to touch hearts and souls with love, friendship, and feelings of community, Laughter, joy, and peace, the good essence of life, can come from a few simple written words.
Hundreds of typed pages bound in leather have their place, they serve a purpose. However, if I can choose only one; a great novel or a daily blog that reaches into my soul to make me a better person, I will choose the blog. I care, Sean.
Ann Thompson - September 3, 2022 9:56 am
I’m glad your a writer. The talent is there. Creativity, observation, steadfastness, ability to make order of the chaos of thoughts and emotions. Some people have this. I don’t…you do.
Becky Hanks - September 3, 2022 11:25 am
I am not a child, but 70 years old, and I only recently wrote something “worth a cuss”, a 1,200 word entry for a writing contest. At least that is what one of your writer-fans (my best award winning friend, T. K. Thorne) told me. And yesterday a writer-wannabe friend of mine asked me in Facebook message to go look at a community link on my computer. I texted back that I would go peek at it. She responded that my word “peek” made her smile. My highschool friends looked at me as if I swallowed a frog when I told them I liked to write research papers. Now my genius (literally) niece is a researcher, but no accolades, yet. You are absolutely correct, we are everywhere. But we just cannot help ourselves. In conclusion, I word-smithed this comment. 🙂
Mr. Jack - September 3, 2022 11:27 am
Sean, I read your stuff. I’m always impressed and inspired… and then I get lost in the daily trivia of living and never comment. So today, here it is: you are a hoot! A truly bonafide, as southern as chitlins, as refreshing as ice tea with sprig of fresh mint, sometimes as sobering as the 24th stanza of “Just as I Am,” and as fun as skinny dipping in grandaddy’s cow pond, real live hoot! Thanks for making it real.
Mike Brown - September 3, 2022 11:43 am
As an always and forever aspiring writer and founding member of Hometown Novel Writers Association in Newnan, GA, AMEN! We live in the shadows of Lewis Grizzard and Erskine Caldwell. What greater examples of diverse writing can one have to be inspired? No aspiring writer is unworthy of his or her pursuit to share their efforts with the public. The lone bar to which any writer must pass to be a writer—the willingness and calling to write for public consumption. Some may appear to be better at it than others, but that does not make them better writers. The ability to tell a story—to describe events, places, and people—far outweighs shining grammar, fancy words and phrases, and, of course, proper punctuation. Storytellers attract readers. You, my friend, are a storyteller, par excellence. Thank you for today’s message.
Paul McCutchen - September 3, 2022 12:01 pm
I wrote a lot of short stories mostly about my brother. There are a few with my Grandfather, a few family friends and even some pets along the way. I sent them in to publishers but got shot down so I put them in a nice binding and gave them to my mother. She cried while reading the stories so I guess I sent them to the wrong person. Now when I write a story I send it to my mother and she adds it to the collection, I guess I needed to know my fan base.
tbell1914 - September 3, 2022 12:16 pm
SC - September 3, 2022 12:20 pm
Dang it, I learned something new this morning when you went all smarty pants and used lagomorph. Way to go, smarty pants.
Denise Walker - September 3, 2022 12:21 pm
Such a negative vibe! Don’t worry, be happy. Where is the optimism I usually see in your writing? This makes me sad. Cheer up, Sean, so many people love to read what you’ve written.
Jackie Logan - September 3, 2022 12:21 pm
Sean, I’m a writer . I just keep postponing, although I have bits and pieces… lots. I even have a fat folder of poems I’ve done to celebrate various family members and people during my life. Almost 80 now😳. so I’d better get a move on. Like you said…” don’t worry about what ‘they’ say”! Grateful for your encouragement👍🏻
Jeanne Hays - September 3, 2022 12:44 pm
You are an amazing, entertaining, authentic, talented, inspiring writer! I’m so glad I discovered you while watching the weekly blog I get from Andy Andrews, another brilliant, uniquely talented writer and speaker. I’m 76 years old so I’m about ready to give writing a try, something many friends have encouraged me to do since my youth. I guess it’s never to late, right? Thanks for being you on paper!
MelissaMiller - September 3, 2022 12:55 pm
You have no idea how timely this article was. Thank you!
Shirlea - September 3, 2022 1:00 pm
Sounds like you could use a day on that big beautiful bay in your boat with a fishing pole.
Suellen - September 3, 2022 1:07 pm
Writers write even if no one notices. It’s the same with my daughter’s friend who is a struggling artist. She gets down in the dumps because she is quite good but hasn’t sold much of her work yet she continues painting because it’s in her soul. Do what makes you happy whether the world appreciates it or not. I do agree that a writer needs to have some experience of the world and how it works first.
Joan Crowson - September 3, 2022 1:11 pm
Your words. They just nail it. Every.single.time. What could be better than that for a writer?
niobrarariverrat - September 3, 2022 1:52 pm
That is excellent advice, Sean!
David Britnell - September 3, 2022 2:04 pm
All I know is you have touched my life, big time!
Roxanne Taylor - September 3, 2022 2:11 pm
I needed this post today Sean! But I’m a 68 year old retiree who is compelled to tell my story. So I hired a writing coach to force me into some accountability. God and Google led me to my coach, and I am so blessed to have his guidance. Your writing blesses my pea picking little heart!💕
Margaret Jackson - September 3, 2022 2:12 pm
I have a drawer full of poems hand-written by my father, who died in 1996. I didn’t know there were this many until after Mom passed away and I got to cleaning out her house!
I hope I can get them all typed up and, at the least, make copies for my niece, and cousins.
Ruth Mitchell - September 3, 2022 2:13 pm
I so agree with what you say about writers/writing. I have to write. I can’t explain it, but I’ve tried to quit unsuccessfully many times. I’m not writing for anyone but my family, friends, and myself, but that’s enough. In earlier days, I wanted to be another Erma Bombeck—that didn’t happen. Now I’m happy writing for the posterity of my grandchildren with the hope that my words will stir positive thoughts from them someday.
Dale Parsons - September 3, 2022 2:28 pm
Daniel - September 3, 2022 2:35 pm
There is thusly …..
Margie - September 3, 2022 2:50 pm
I love your humility and honesty. Great therapy for you and your followers,
Sean of the South: Write Baby Right | The Trussville Tribune - September 3, 2022 3:04 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Anne Arthur - September 3, 2022 3:12 pm
Were you talking to me, for me, about me? As always you are point on.
You are a master-writer because you walk the earth with open eyes, open ears, and a wide-open heart.
Cudos to you, Sean. Oh, how I love to read your posts!
Chris kitchens - September 3, 2022 4:08 pm
Well I love your writing and read every day. Reading between the lines, It sounds like writing is a lot like golf, keep your day job, and as Ricky Nelson said in his 1960’s song, “You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself” and do just that.
Irma Turnipseed - September 3, 2022 4:25 pm
Dear Sean, you assumed you were writing this column to college, high school, or even middle school students with a grandiose vocabulary. I am 71 years old with an ordinary vocabulary, hence only a high school education – but I want to write! Something remarkable happened to me 32 years ago and my soul still burns to share it; fear has held me back. Like the gentleman almost 80, in a previous comment, I feel like it’s now or never, I’d better get to it.
I want to write about the above-mentioned event, and various stories about my life, a designer memoir I guess. My dream is that my four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will someday cherish my words as a treasure discovered, a lamp to light their pathway through life, and even a little relief from their daily struggles.
I’ve decided to conquer my fear and simply write as if I’m telling my stories directly to my family. They couldn’t care less if I were to dangle my participles. Most wouldn’t even know if I misused punctuation. What’s important is leaving them that treasure! I don’t care if others should read it, but thank goodness, I’ve finally reached the age that I really don’t care what others think.
Thank you Sean for your encouragement to the young and old.
Steve McCaleb - September 3, 2022 4:30 pm
After reading that I’m not sure whether to learn word processing or take a short walk off a tall pier. Oh well, it turns out Erma was right, “ the grass is always greener over the septic tank”. And so it goes……
Bill E. - September 3, 2022 5:42 pm
Do you know the difference between an amateur and a professional ? A professional doesn’t show you his mistakes.
Linda Moon - September 3, 2022 6:16 pm
I’m not from Europe, but here in my Deep South home I can get dreamy and happy while talking about “War and Peace”. I also get happy reading writings from Sean Dietrich. And, don’t discount the keyboard-walking cats, Writer. Cats know stuff and they have more lives than the rest of us mortals. So, from my piano-keyboard-walking cats and me: Keep writing, Author !
Dee Thompson - September 3, 2022 6:26 pm
Hmm… I usually agree with you wholeheartedly but this column is a bit troubling. I do agree writers need to get out of their rooms and actually go live and have experiences. I had nothing to write about until I was 53 and now I am finishing up my 5th novel. Writing is a compulsion. I ever go a day without writing unless I am in the hospital. I have a small but loyal group of readers and of course I hope to expand that soon. One thing I wish you had pointed out is this: nobody can teach anyone else how to write. Each writer has to figure it out on their own. I have an MA in Creative Writing but that didn’t help me when I sat down to write my first novel. You can see my books here: https://www.amazon.com/Dee-Thompson/e/B07V87173J/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1
Eve - September 4, 2022 9:44 pm
I looked at your website. Am going to read some of your books. Sean’s comment section is a wonderful platform for other talented writers to share.
I just finished Sean’s book – Sean of the South Volume I. Vintage Sean Dietrich!
Serena - September 3, 2022 6:57 pm
I absolutely love your writings! Can’t wait to see what the next one will be! Keep it up ! You have a great gift of writing!
Carol - September 3, 2022 7:11 pm
Sincere thanks for your words of encouragement…I like to write, have started wondering if I had what it takes…Thanks for the timeline..I’ve had other jobs…if success comes at 85, I’ve only got 10 years to go….I recently had a real eye opening experience; just found out that a friend’s daughter with the IQ of a lightbulb published her 5th “Romance Novel”…it’s for sale on Amazon…Got me to thinking…if she can do it, what’s wrong with me? Again, thanks for the encouragement!
JonDragonfly - September 3, 2022 7:17 pm
I want to read about your “remarkable happening”. Let us Sean-ites know when and where we can find it.
JonDragonfly - September 3, 2022 7:20 pm
Your “Ghosts” has me intrigued, I must add it to my kindle.
Helen De Prima - September 3, 2022 7:37 pm
You’re so right, Sean! All my life I wanted to write but didn’t complete my first novel until I was nearly 70. And it was based on memories from my 60’s. With four novels published, I’m striking out in a new genre — mysteries — at age 78. Never too late!
Karen Snyder - September 3, 2022 8:48 pm
One quality I don’t believe you mentioned, Sean, is self-discipline. As much as I enjoy writing, I would have starved to death had I attempted to make my living from it. I am a procrastinator par excellence, and easily distracted, to boot. As multi-talented as you are, you surely must have more self-discipline than the average human, else you could not turn out these daily columns AND do a steady round of personal appearances AND write numerous books AND observe and remember the world and the folks around you . . .
Oh, yes, I was tickled to see that I wasn’t the only reader for whom “thusly” jumped off the page today! Keep doing what you do, thank you, ’cause we love it!
Susan - September 3, 2022 9:04 pm
Dear Sean, I began writing in high school, wrote Letters to the Editor, finally articles in newspapers and magazines while working as a middle-aged secretary. I spent 16 writing a children’s book which won an award a couple of years ago and just signed a contract for a new one. Every kid that believes he/she/they can write should just keep doing it. If I had it to do over, I would have been a journalist because lots of curiosity about all kinds of stuff including humans + writing = journalist.
MAM - September 3, 2022 10:07 pm
My writing gig for the past 20 yeas has been journalism and reporting. I don’t have to think up fancy or perfect words. I just write down what happened, with the who, what, when, where and sometimes why and tell people about it. But it has to make sense and it has to flow well, so it’s not always easy So far, so good!
Ruth Ann Hines - September 3, 2022 10:12 pm
I think you are the best “writer” in the world. EVERYBODY can relate to most of your articles and they are SO interesting and enjoyable! !
Harriet White - September 3, 2022 10:14 pm
There was a time when people were impressed if you had a writing award. Now I don’t think ANY of those “awards” are worth 2 cents. So I total agree with you Sean, nobody cares about awards or the Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer Prize.
I think your writing, Sean, pulls the winner out of us which is why we love your writing. I think your advice On Writing blows Stephen Kings bs advice away.
Brian - September 4, 2022 5:11 am
Thanks for making a difference Sean!
Cindy - September 4, 2022 10:10 am
… Thusly… 🤣
Ed (Bear) - September 4, 2022 10:29 am
This is a public apology to Sean and his readers. I’m sorry for my cheesy behavior when I posted links to my website in the body of this comments forum.
I love y’all and want you to know that you all have inspired me to keep working and growing my art. Thank you! ❤️
Suellen - September 4, 2022 3:24 pm
Ed: I don’t think apologies are necessary. This is a pretty loving and forgiving group and it didn’t bother me at all.
William Stocks - September 4, 2022 5:05 pm
You folks are good for bringing us to tears of joy or despair, chucking us under the chin, banging our funny-bones or just plain learning us new things. Thank you all.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 15, 2022 9:23 pm