I receive a lot of questions in the form of emails, private messages, and glacially slow federal mail. There is no way I could answer all these questions, so I have compiled some commonly asked questions into the popular Q-and-A format and answered them here.
I won’t waste any more time.
Q: How in the heck are YOU a writer? No offense, but I’m an English major/teacher/professor/professional writer/constipated person/expert, and your stuff stinks.
A: I appreciate you taking the time to write that. Means a lot.
Q: Wait? Aren’t you gonna argue and try to shut me down?
A: Nah. After all, you made a fair point. My stuff ain’t exactly Joyce. Remember, this writing is something you found on the internet.
Q: So, you mean you think your work is subpar, too?
A: Sometimes, sure. Sometimes it reeks.
Q: Then why do you keep writing?
A: Because sometimes it doesn’t.
Q: When I first started following you, I didn’t think you were a spiritual person. But sometimes your writing gets way too spiritual sounding for me, where do you stand on religious things?
Q: Really? You’re not going to answer that?
A: It doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is what you believe.
Q: Oh, give me a break. What a cop out. Surely you can tell me your religious views.
A: I don’t believe that heaven waits for only those who congregate. I’d like to think that God is love. He’s down below, He’s up above. He’s watching people everywhere, He knows who does and doesn’t care.
Q: Did you just quote a Don Williams song?
A: You bet your astrological sign I did.
Q: Man, Don Williams was great.
A: Tell me about it. I saw him in concert once in New Orleans when I was young. I had driven all day only to be left standing outside the theater, in the frog-choking rain, because the venue was completely sold out.
I was about to leave when a kindhearted ticket-lady at the door told me that Don Williams wouldn’t want anyone to miss his concert, so she snuck me into the back row for free. She said Don would have wanted it that way. True story.
Q: Dear Sean, are you for real? I’ve followed you and it seems like the life you claim to live is a little too good to be true.
A: The irony here is that most of my life, to be quite frank, has sucked. I have gone through anxiety, depression, blah, blah, blah. Start playing your air violin.
See, when your life sucks, that’s how you end up viewing the world—as one big Suck Fest. But when you are fortunate enough to have the help of mental-health experts and loved ones who can lead you to daylight, as in my case, life becomes a veritable Disneyland.
Soon, you find yourself looking at life differently. You visit rundown truck stop diners and sincerely want to write novels about the elderly waitress you met because life feels so vividly brief and beautiful.
My life isn’t anything remarkable, I simply choose to believe that it is. Because, you see, I’m desperately trying to love my life. I wasted too many years not loving it.
Q: I really want to be a writer, how do I do that?
A: If you’re asking that question, you are already a writer.
Q: No, I mean I want to be a REAL writer.
A: You look pretty real to me.
Q: You know what I mean, I want to be a legit writer.
A: Get in line.
Q: Quit avoiding the question and answer me.
A: Okay. I think what I’m actually hearing is that you want to be a “recognized” writer—which is a normal thing to want. After all, the reason you write is for others to read, right?
But it’s also dangerous to crave recognition. I’ve been to a lot of writing conferences and book events and met writers who, when they say they want to “be a writer,” really just mean they want to “be famous.”
Don’t confuse fame with real success. Brittney Spears is one; Helen Keller is the other.
Q: How are you and your wife holding up since your mother-in-law passed away?
A: First off, thank you for asking. We are doing okay. For my wife, the grief comes in tidal waves. But overall, we’re hanging in there. I’m not going to lie. Our lives look a lot different now. And that’s been hard.
Q: I am going through a really tough time currently. Someone I love is dying, or I am very sick, or my life is falling apart, can you give me a few words of encouragement?
A: If there is only one thing you take away from this ridiculous Q-and-A column, let it be this: You’re going to make it through whatever private hell you’re going through.
That’s not an opinion.
I know you don’t believe me, and hey, I don’t blame you. But even your doubt cannot change the fact that you, my friend, are going to make it.
Just ask my buddy Mark, who was shot by his mentally-unstable father. Mark nearly bled to death on the kitchen floor. Today, he is the happiest person I know.
Or ask my friend, Linda, who has survived cancer, not five, not six, but seven times.
Talk to my pal Bradley, who tried to kill himself twice, but through therapy and medication is now loving his life, drinking lots of carrot juice, and paddleboarding every morning. And when I see him in a bathing suit I always feel like I should lay off the glazed donuts.
Talk to Jennifer, who lost her mother, her father, and both brothers in a car accident. Then, as if being orphaned wasn’t bad enough, she was hospitalized with a rare cancer. But guess what? Jennifer made a full physical recovery, and is getting married next spring.
You—yes, you—are going to get through this mess. Not because you are strong, not because you said the right prayers, not because you believed hard enough, but because there is an unseen Being up there who will drag you through to safety.
No, I’m not talking about a divine white-bearded old geezer, floating in the sky, wearing a John-Belushi toga, looking like a character akin to Santa Claus. There is a lot more up there than a heavenly Rip Van Winkle. And that is exactly what is going to get you through this.
And here is the coolest part:
While you read these weakly written words, something in your heart knows you’re going to be okay.
Yep. You know I’m right. You can’t explain how you know, but you do. On some level, you have this small, faint, almost unnoticeable feeling, but it’s definitely there. It’s buried beneath the fear and uncertainty. You are going to survive this.
Go with that feeling. Trust that feeling. Feed that feeling daily. Exercise it. Don’t let that feeling go, not even for a nanosecond.
And when this is all over, write back to me. I’ll buy you a beer and we can compare our scars.
Q: Okay, see? That all sounded pretty spiritual.
A: You can blame Don Williams.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, Alabama Living, the Birmingham News, Thom Magazine, The Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.