A [writer]’s dilemma

In the argumentation class I teach at a local university, I love teaching the Post Hoc Ergo Procter Hoc fallacy: after this, therefore because of this. The freshmen composition students and I talk about how humans try to make sense of the world, even when we don’t have all the information, and about how sometimes our logic is faulty because we tend to see chronology as an indicator of cause and effect in places where there are other options to describe how something came to exist or be the way it is.


(Picture taken from the lovely Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments you can find here.)

I observe this fallacy in my students’ papers and in-class discussions. I catch myself doing it too sometimes–looking for a simple answer when I know there are other factors, more complicated, less of my control.


9 January 2015
Mandy Len’s New York Times article–for which she was interviewed on the Diane Rehm show yesterday (10 February 2015).

Not only did this article force me to look at my own relationship and consider what we (humans, not me and my partner–although I guess I mean that too) know about love, but it forced me, once again, as I am so often forced, to rejoice in the knowledge that I know talented folks. That people I went to graduate school with a decade ago are “making it through” and being writers and being published in the the New York Times as well as [insert a lot of other really awesome publications here].

I really wanted to post a response, but I kept putting the three-day student-staff training I was organizing ahead of it.

25 January 2015
Ann Bauer’s Salon piece calling for more honesty in the writing community about How-It’s-All-Possible. The article offers the idea that time and the luxury to focus on writing may not be as handcuffed to motivation or hard work (alone) as many play it up to be.

I saw this first as a tweeted link from a writing student I had four years ago, in my first class at the school where I’m currently teaching. I haven’t asked what my former student–now a writer/editor making her own way through–saw in the piece, why she retweeted it, but I imagine it’s because the piece publicly acknowledges that class and socioeconomic status ARE tied to our dreams more than the writing community (or the US public at large) like to admit.  Or perhaps that’s why I retweeted it.

Retweeting is a lot easier than posting a piece, but isn’t as authentic to my thoughts as a post would have been. Tweeting keeps me involved in the writerly world when everything else in my life is pulling me away. So I tweet, and I’m happy, and I regret.

7 February 2015

Laura Bogart’s response (also from Salon) to Bauer wherein she turns the false dilemma between “thriving and surviving” as an artist on its side and references the idea that many of us mortal writers are looking for a way through, not out, of our real lives (from Strauss’s piece on Wild for Elle).

With this piece, the cycle starts over again, doubling out. I again am thankful for the level of success and accomplishment that writers I know are achieving. It’s a reason to be hopeful. I’ve seen more people from grad school posting their own stuff in the last year than I have in the previous 6 years combined. It’s as if we are all finally arriving in the dock after a slow and seasick ride across the ocean.

And then I realize that I’m still on the boat and that this metaphor sucks anyway because it erroneously assumes that there IS a dock when I know what’s more likely happening is that my friends are simply getting on a different boat or moving up to a higher deck, where they have a room with a view.

I again ask myself how I got where am I, and why I’m not somewhere else, and I again am torn between causations and blame, feeling one thing but knowing another.


Like Laura Bogart, Sallie Mae–now Navient–gives me a monthly bruise. I’m still working my way through, or trying to find a way through, but I’m not seeing many windows, and that’s a scary thing. So how do I know if I’m taking the logical fallacy route and simply finding blame and causation where it’s easiest for me to feel the most guilty–especially when there’s no evidence that I’m a particularly lazy individual or unmotivated? How do other struggling writers–the ones I don’t see posting on my social media feeds–handle all the years of not making it through or around?

Perhaps they force themselves to write and post crappy first drafts on the same deadlines they give their upper-level writing students.

As a thirtysomething between Gen Xers and Millennials (the world sometimes forgets the Jared Catalano Generation) I am constantly reconsidering my identity, my past, my path. Comparing myself to others is also a soul-crushing part of being a writer. And even as I type this, I’m second guessing whether I truly identify as a writer anymore. But I know that I’ve written today–and my former teacher and super success story EJ Levy says: you’re a writer when you’re writing.

(Students: this is 876 words)


One thought on “A [writer]’s dilemma

  1. EJ is correct in her warm sentiment – being a writer is more like a lifestyle than it is a career. Those who write are writers. And you are. This, however, is a hard fight for me to fight. Did I go to school for writing? Yes. Have I historically written for websites and kept a blog or two? Yes. Am I a writer? No? I’ve tried harder to be a marathon runner or a taco-expert than I have ever tried to be a writer. I only studied writing to become a teacher, and I didn’t get there either. I’ve recently had a conversation about career goals where it was assumed that my ultimate goal is to be a Writer (and these other gigs are just temporary money makers), but I had to disagree. I like writing. I might even love it, but for me, writing success is not the dock. I’m not even sure I’m on the boat. More like occasionally wearing boat shoes.

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