Being an Observer

“I just know that you have to be afraid to live your life in order to become a writer. Soon you realize that your life is becoming this incredible plot and every person you meet becomes a character. That’s when the world inside your head feels more real than the one outside your window, when a tragedy becomes nothing more than intriguing information. That’s when you can’t cry anymore because nothing around you feels real. Your entire life becomes a huge stash of stories and novels.

And you die one chapter at a time.

You either write or live. And every writer is bound to find that out someday.”

This is what Jonathan Fisher has to say about being a writer. He’s a fictional character, but I know that some of you will feel inclined to disagree with him.

In fact, sometimes I feel like disagreeing with him as well. It’s like that quote by Fitzgerald (I never seem to find it when I need to reference it.) You know, the one about a writer being able to believe in two opposite ideas at the same time — by the way, if you know the quote, please put it here.

Anyway, my idea is that the biggest price you have to pay as a writer is that you slowly become an observer. It’s often a process that goes on unnoticed until it’s too late. And it’s a pretty big price to pay, if you think about it. More so than starving, than drug abuse, than all the crazy stuff writers have been known to do. Because being just an observer means that you’re on the outside, you’re not quite there.

It makes sense. In order to analyze something you often have to take a step back. In order for you to look at it from all sides.

And I think that this happens not because we spend a lot of time writing. It doesn’t really matter how many hours you spend writing, because you spend a lot more time just thinking about your stories, brainstorming ideas, living in a world that’s not quite real, but isn’t entirely fake either. If you couple that with the fact that writers are notorious bookworms… you get the picture.

This changes you. Simply because there isn’t enough time left for you to interact with others. Or maybe because you get used to living in the world of fiction — a world that has its appeals, no doubt.

“Because your art is an addiction like any other. The more you write, the more you want to write. The more you drown yourself in words, the less you feel alive.”

Art as an addiction. Art like morphine for those who no one loves, as Jonathan says a few lines later.

Some of you will think this is just a stereotypical portrayal of the writer. And I’m inclined to agree. Because I find it rather difficult to understand how human beings act and react from a concrete box.

You have to get out there to live. To fall in love, to get your heart broken, to hate. You have to feel something. Being passionate about writing does not make you a writer. You have to be passionate about life. You have to believe in something, you have to stand up for something. It’s difficult to find something to write about when you haven’t lived.

Then there’s this feeling that I get sometimes. Life feels like research. You know, everything you do slowly finds its way into your stories. There is no other way. You’ve got to draw inspiration from your own life experience.

But can you stop once you start dissecting your past? Can you really go back to a moment when life was just meant to be lived, not inspected? Can you really stop once you start asking questions?

“Jonathan Fisher does not intervene. I repeat, he never, ever intervenes. He just observes. He steals agony, pain, malice, sins, and then he mixes them up. He even adds a little bit of death, for good measure. And so he creates something he likes to call art. Jonathan Fisher observes, takes everything that might seem of interest, and then looks the other way. “

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15 comments on “Being an Observer

  1. Juan Zung says:

    I have to agree with the quote. Even when I’m engaged in some social activity: parties, bars, dinners, sex even, I never stop observing myself and the people around me. It’s almost a split personality. I have the me that is living life. And I have that me’s constant, silent, observing twin.

  2. That was awesome. I shall reblog.

  3. I totally love and find your piece so thought provoking and challenging and so very true!!! If were not careful it can be like living life through a lens and not actually partaking! Fortunately I have 6 children who daily inspire me to engage in life and not just write about it from memory :)

    This is a great blog every writer needs to read this and breathe it in. Thank you, keep up the great work and God bless you lots :)

  4. thirteen1999 says:

    Is the quote you’re referring to: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function?”
    Also, I really enjoy your posts, this one in particular caught my attention because of it’s subject matter. As a writer, I do feel like an observer at times but at the same time, I know that that is what I’m meant to do. Not just observe, however, but find that balance between observation and participation, as, in the end, what I write is human life itself. It’s hard, thought, standing on the sidelines at times, and that pain I think is particular to the writer.

  5. This really resonated with me. Lately the most writing I’ve done is comics, but I published a short story about a boy running away from home, not something I had experienced, but somehow had fabricated through the use of observations. Kind of like Jonathan Fisher’s “stealing” in the quote you used. I agree with you that writers have to live: Hemingway’s a prime example. But again, how far back can we remember a time when we didn’t observe and just plainly lived? It’s hard. Thanks for saying this, I was happy to see it in words!

  6. Interesting to see things from the point of view of a writer. As a painter, if I’ve been working too hard it’s impossible to switch my painting brain off, everything I look at is unconsciously analysed for which paints I need to mix that colour. It only stops when I sleep. I will paint the taps in my bath one day, as I have analysed every colour in them many times whilst trying to switch from painting mode to family mode!

    • roweeee says:

      LIsa, I can so relate to this. You hear a lot about writer’s block but I’ve actually had writer’s overload and like yourself find it hard to switch it all off and return to the real world. This was compounded lately when I started writing historical fiction while recovering from sickness. I felt like a time traveller and as the present was quite difficult to deal with at the time, it become the perfect escape.

      • It’s a wonderful thing to have a good imagination! Life is never boring & as you say, there’s always escape, a necessity in many peoples lived I think!A time travelling imagination sounds like a wonderful thing to me! Hope you’re physically all better now but still travelling!

  7. Italo says:

    I believe that our stories, whether they’re fiction or not, have an intricate part of us in them. Whether you’re referring to the protagonist or the antagonist or the character observing from afar. They’re all YOU.

  8. Killick says:

    ““When you’re a famous writer, the characters and stories come to you.” -Grand Budapest Hotel
    I remember there being much more to that quote but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. It seems less applicable in the shortened form. But basically it agrees with the original premise.

  9. beleza108 says:

    Interesting observation.. but I know that a human mind capable of stepping out of life and being the observer is simultaneously able to experience life fully at the same time. The world inside your head is what you make it.

  10. We want you to live your addiction. Write what bests suits you. I know times are hard, but if that’s your real motive in life keep doing it. You are a great writer and will be looking forward to your book.. Good luck :)

  11. Souleavel says:

    The power of fate is no doubt a beauty. To come across such words truly warms my heart. We undoubtedly, stumble upon what we need to stumble upon when the Universe feels we need to come across such valuable information. I am grateful for your clever words.
    Last year I found myself in a depressed state, I concluded I was empty, I had forgotten what it felt like to feel. Now however, I realize I am only detached. Detached from the clouded reality every human has entrapped themselves within. Detached from this clouded delusion society paints as “life”. The more I read books, the more I write, the more I lose a sense of emotion. As I walk and travel my daily commutes I find I spend most of my time wandering in my head, pitching ideas and citizens with my wordy descriptions. The moments. The now, they are all too pure. I live for these coincidences. When the Universe speaks. After all, he,she,or it is what has created us all and our every “now” moments. Perception indeed is key, but, observing no doubt is the lock itself.

    Again, I thank you for the wonderful words, the wonderful read to begin this rainy day with. A Good day to you, and a good day to all.

  12. Hi….I like your thoughts on the matter…For me it’s not about the being a detached observer or dissecting my past, most of my project draw inspiration from dreams….somedays I try to transform these dreams into illustrations and then build stories around them…

  13. people around you becomes a character… great blog

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