Let me ask you something: What is it all great writers have in common? I’m talking Shakespeare. I’m talking Hemmingway, Poe, Rowling, and King. What do all of them have in common? Have you ever read a book by Hemmingway? It can get fucked up. Ever read anything by Poe? You can feel the pain. Why is it people like that succeed? It is many things.
They have all the pieces in their puzzle. The skill. The motivation. The passion. The time. The opportunity. Everyone talks about these things. Everyone sees these as the pieces they need. But it’s not all. You need the glue. You need the thing that’s going to make having all these things work. The other day I was listening to a podcast, and they said something that stuck with me. It’s something I’d never heard before, but is absolutely true. It is work from The Basement.
We’ve all read those books that—even though they’re written well and might have grammatical perfection—simply put us to sleep. They’re boring. They’re dry. They have no substance. Don’t contribute to the mountain of shit like that.
No matter what you do—write, draw, paint, sculpt, play a sport, act, whatever—no matter what it is, where do you do it from? Most of you are doing it at the dining room table. What do I mean by that? When you walk into someone’s house and you see the dining room, what are you looking at? You’re looking at the clean and orderly. You see what they want you to see… what they want you to think the rest of their house looks like… what they want you to think the rest of their life looks like. You know it’s true because you’ve done it. I’ve done it. You got company coming over and you’re like “Don’t let them in the bedroom”, “…they can only use this bathroom”, “…make sure that door stays shut”.
The problem is: That’s not who we are. That’s who we want them to think we are. If you want someone to see who you really are, let them in your basement. We have the strangest shit in our metaphorical basements. From bodies to old pizza boxes from last summer. From childhood toys that hold memories to sex dungeons that hold slaves. The evidence that you committed that crime. The twenty 2nd place trophies that collect dust in a box while the one first place trophy you’ve ever earned sits on shelf upstairs. Why are you hiding this stuff?
Poe’s life was full of death. It rained around him. He put it into his work and THAT’S why he succeeded. Hemmingway was an alcoholic. He soaked his work in alcohol, and THAT’S why he succeeded. Rowling was recently divorced, her mother was sick, and she had no job and a little daughter at home. She did the one thing she could afford to do. She wrote. She unloaded everything she had into her first novel. It was rejected by twelve publishing houses before it finally sold. Ray Bradbury wrote and wrote and wrote and got rejected every single time. The first time he sold a short story was when he wrote about a friend of his when he was growing up. A little girl that he was playing with at the beach. They both went into the surf, and she never came out. It was his first time putting his life into his work, and that’s when he sold.
Don’t write from the dining room. Don’t right fairytales and perfect lives. Don’t write like you’re safe and your life is in order. Put those vices to work. Put those skeletons in the work. Drag your manuscript through the filth and grime and dusty boxes in your closet. Dress it in the old hand-me-downs you wore as a child. Let it hear the squeaks of the floorboards above as your mom takes her 2am piss. The memories of your life, the hardships and the achievements, the sweat on the bench press in the corner that you only use once every few months. When is the last time all of that went into your work? So this is me asking—no—this is me begging: Whatever you do, do it from #TheBasement.