Friday, April 30, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

On Writing, Frank Turk, and Big Boy

I had lunch with Frank Turk today. Yeah, I drop names like Osteen's preaching drops the ball. I'd like to elaborate on that, but can't because I have to tend to some ministerial functions here shortly before meeting up with famous author Ted Kluck to pick up our press passes for Acquire the Fire. Note: I know God is no respecter of persons, but when it comes to Ted and Frank, I'm barely a respecter of persons, either, so it's okay. (BTW, did I mention that the three of us are responsible for this book and that you can buy it here? I did? A whole bunch of times, you say? Okay, I won't bring it up again.) Also note: Ted and I are probably not going to be acquiring any fire. Just sayin'.

Anyway, Turk was passing through Michigan on his way from Amsterdam to his home state of Nunyabusiness and so we darted out to a nearby Big Boy for a quick lunch. The restaurant was...just as I remember Big Boy being. I swear time stands still inside Big Boy restaurants. The same lady is always sitting at the little lunch counter/bar with a four-inch ash on her cigarette (don't think for a minute that the Michigan smoking ban, which takes effect tomorrow, will change anything inside Big Boy--you're confusing categories if you do), the menu is the same, the smell is the same. But enough about Big Boy.

First of all, let me just squash Turk's aforementioned mysterio and say that, despite an online reputation which ranges from snarky, confrontational brawler to, in fact, being the devil himself, he's actually one of the most down-to-earth, friendly, and agreeable guys I've shared Big Boy with. Even paid for my lunch. (Sorry to blow your cover, Turk.)

But here's the thing: Turk's not pseudo-famous for being nice (or even for being snarky), but rather for his straight-forward way of saying something worth saying in a very succinct and direct way. That last sentence was a segue, by the way, because this post isn't really about Turk--it's about something he said. You see, I asked him straight-up how he become one of the most followed bloggers out there. He answered with two generations of life story (which were rather gripping and did involve Eastern Europe, gunshot wounds, homelessness, and Dayspring Greeting cards--although Frank himself was only involved in the last one), and capped it with an anecdote about a time he, Dan, and Phil did a panel about blogging at a conference, where someone asked what it takes to be a successful blogger.

Turk's answer then, as it is now, was that--first and foremost--you have to want to write. Then he clarified (and this is where the succinct brilliance comes into play), not that you want to want to write, but that you actually want to write. The profundity of this bit of wisdom--doled out between bites of Reuben (Turk's first non-airline American cuisine in like ten days)--didn't really hit me until I was halfway back to the capital city.

I know a lot of people who want to want to write. They like the idea of being someone who writes. They like having written. They like everything that kind of goes along with writing, but they don't actually want to write. Not at any given time. They put it off, they do other stuff, they have all these reasons why they can't write right now...because they don't really want to write. They just want to want to write.

The same thing is true of the guy who swears he has a novel inside of him, but never makes time to sit down and put it to paper and the teenager who wants to be a rockstar, but doesn't want to learn scales, modes, and chords. Forget practicing, forget hours of strumming and strumming away--he wants to skip right to adoring fans, video shoots, and snorting coke out of a supermodel's navel or something. You know what? That's not a rockstar. That's not even a musician.

Turk talked about the feeling that, if he didn't write, it would come shooting out his ears. It would back up in him--he'd be miserable. I'm finding myself more and more in the same boat. Less someone who wants to want to write and more someone who wants to write. And I think what moves someone from point A to point B is simply choosing to be someone who writes. When you see the two levels of "want to want to" between you and writing, you have to just decide to bypass both and write. Right now. Last night, I was up until what is really late for me (by the standards of a guy whose toddler is ready for world conquest at the crack of dawn each morning) re-working the end of a novel I've been working on for several years. A few years ago, I wanted to want to work on it. Last night (and last week, and last month), I wanted to. So I did.

I think my wife has a little notepad that says, "If you want to be a writer...write!" (If not, I have no idea where I saw that). That could be said of any activity-based identity, not just writing. I've got a basement full of tools and I want to want to work with wood, but I don't do it nearly as much as I wish I did.

I could go on with many more examples (a flaw of Baptist ministers), but I won't, because this is the kind of post where I'm trying to start a conversation. Seriously, pull up a chair to our imaginary Big Boy booth, and tell me...

1. Your thoughts on writing, on wanting to write, and on wanting to want to write, and
2. What other activities, habits, etc. (excluding eating right, exercising, getting a good night sleep, etc.) that you want to want to do, but clearly don't really want to do.

Does that make sense? Too bad.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

UPDATE: If you linked here from facebook and want to comment, please do it here (not on facebook). You don't have to sign up for anything; if you don't have a google account, just choose "Name/URL" and you can weigh in on the comments section all the same...

5 reader comments:

Jennifer Waldman said...

I want to be a librarian, feel very strongly about it, and though I am currently unemployed, I am a volunteer librarian which I hope is a step in the right direction. It did take me a long time to decide if I was going the librarianship route because I wanted to, or because I could do it without thinking about it. I want to.

Erin said...

hoooo...where to start...?

How about we start with something I DO do. I have always wanted to work with animals and I love to teach people. I didn't become a vet or a zookeeper or a teacher, but I did become a zoo docent. Today I taught 25 high school kids in a juvenile detention center about porcupines, peregrine falcons, snakes, cockroaches, and more. That's satisfying.

As for writing, much of my life I have wanted to want to write. Now I do write regularly, but my problem now is obviously that I want to want to finish things I'm writing. But I obviously don't want it bad enough to focus on it the way I should. I always have a long list of projects and to-dos and writing (and exercising) get pushed to the bottom of the list. I think I just have too many interests.

JB said...

I want to want to go to bed on time. This is why I am zombie-like in the morning and almost always feel like my head is being tightened in a vice until about 9:00am (and then again at around 2:00pm).

David Marvin said...

I like writing, and when I get in my groove, I can write a ton. However, I realized a decade ago that my groove results in very technical language that is great for the type of work I do, but does not make for exciting reading. For example, I wrote a dazzling argument against a multi-state aquifer project a few years ago that literally stopped the EPA in their tracks. Sure, my writing can influence powerful federal agencies, but it would put you to sleep! I wish I could be more exciting and creative in my writing instead of being so analytical.

As for things I would like to do, but never will (not for lack of trying): astronaut and pirate. The spaceman thing is a real desire; I would go to space in a heartbeat. The pirate thing is something I might try if I ever get the opportunity to retire and really would be more for the shock value. I would be mostly the "don't do anything" type of pirate, not the Somalian type that are harassing the Indian Ocean shipping lanes.

chamblee54 said...

1- Computers and the Internet make this a lot easier to do.
I would hate to have to type on a manual typewriter. This would mean replacing the backspace key with an eraser, not to mention no copy/cut/paste.
With the internet, you can have an audience for your writing. Even if your blog is doing good to a double digit readership, you have a potential audience of over a billion people.
All of these things make it a lot easier to write. They do not guarantee that people are going to want to read your output. You have to be satisfied with writing for yourself, and appreciative of any audience that you receive.
2- I want to want to have goals.