Clichés & City Lights


Sometimes as a writer you can’t help but feel as though your very existence is a clichéd hybrid of all those who have come before you.  You write about feeling like an outcast, both revelling in, and despising the idiosyncrasies that form the microcosm of you. You are volatile, temperamental, a deep thinker, quirky, a workhorse, a masochist, and about a million other things. You yearn to be accepted, yet when those moments of companionship with your fellow man arrive, your anxiety craves independence. You write to fight demons, to understand the world, to question the illogical and voice an opinion that needs to be heard.

You write because you are different. Yet by doing so you prove that you are ultimately the same as almost every great writer throughout history. You’re still a minority, and you deserve to be celebrated as such. But the eccentricities that define you are a collection of all those brilliant authors whose works inspired you to create and compose in the first place.

You’re nodding your head; yet you’re sceptical about where this is heading. I don’t blame you. Those opening two paragraphs are nonsensical bullshit written by an author trying to astound and astonish with his philosophical thoughts and linguistic repertoire. But, as always, there is a point to this. I promise. 

I have a confession to make. Just like literary heavyweights such as Hemmingway, Capote, Wilde, and countless others, I tend to spend a lot of time in bars.  The great Ernest Hemmingway once declared that he drank “to make other people more interesting.” While I haven’t quite reached that level of disinterest in the people around me, the truth is that actually I fit into a lot of the categories outlined above. I’m temperamental, an emotional masochist, and a deep thinker that yearns to be accepted yet thrives off of being alone.

But perhaps one of the most clichéd tendencies that I have developed throughout my life as a writer is a genuine love for the social setting of bars. While I often feel isolated and alone in this world, there is an undeniable allure to dingy dive-bars and poorly lit nightclubs that I can’t deny. The combination of people, music, and liquor, leaves me captivated. It’s not necessarily that I have a desire to drink myself into a stupor either; I could whittle away hours watching strangers hang their hopes and dreams on relationships and interactions forged on a cocktail of inebriation and camaraderie. A bar is such a unique societal backdrop that brings together men and women from various colours, creeds, socio-political, and economic backgrounds, creating a melting pot of humanity and raw human emotion that any writer would find intriguing.

I know that it must shock readers to hear that a writer finds solace in bars and nightclubs, in fact, I can imagine a few readers furrowing their brows right now. How could someone ever be drawn to such a place? Yet if it wasn’t for this love affliction with lady liquor, I never would have found the window.

There’s a window? For a moment you thought this was just about liquor and inebriation didn’t you? You thought that I was going to wrap this up by saying that I have my infatuation with the nightlife under control and that all is well in the world. But alas, there’s more to this story than you thought!


It’s midnight. I’m in a bar with my family and closest friends. I excuse myself and walk towards the bathroom, cutting down a narrow passage beside the counter, moving past the kitchen where chefs cuss at one another over open grills as flames lick towards the ceiling. The passage continues, until I reach a single door with a sign signalling a unisex bathroom pinned haphazardly against it. I push open the door and step into a cubicle roughly the size of an airplane bathroom. There’s a toilet, a hand basin, and the tell tale smell of a public restroom. The hygiene is questionable at best; grime clings to every surface like a thin layer of film. But despite the cubicle’s terrible state, there’s also a window.

It’s roughly the size of a shoebox, and looks as though it were never meant to be more than a small section of wall removed at eyelevel to provide a source of ventilation within the cramped space. But through that window is the most beautiful view of the city that I have ever seen. The moon sits above a sprawling metropolis of lights, illuminating the city in an ambient glow. Buildings rise from the earth and form streets and suburbs, providing shelter for the millions that live within their walls. I’m supposed to be quick. There’s a line of people waiting for me to finish, but I am so captivated by the thought that there are people I have never met moving through their own existence somewhere in that sea of lights that I can’t move. Here I am standing in a dingy public restroom staring out at the cityscape feeling a sense of hope coursing through my veins.

I am incredibly hard on myself. In addition to afflictions with night clubs, being temperamental, and longing for camaraderie whilst simultaneously yearning to be an individual, I have a proclivity to push myself until breaking point on a regular basis. I want to be a great writer. I want to create a body of work that transcends time and genres, becoming part of literary history.

But sometimes my quest to constantly redefine and improve my craft can leave me blinded, bitter, and miserable. I can become so focused on achieving my dreams that I forget that there is an entire world of wonder and possibility around me. I need to constantly remind myself to stop focusing on my failure to be successful right now, and instead turn my attention to everything that I have already achieved and remember that there are millions of other men and women all around me who are desperately working towards their own dreams.

Things often sound so simple when you break them down to the ridiculous. You’re not alone. Sometimes you are just so focused on walking your own journey that you can’t see how many others are moving through theirs. We often sit at our desks, or on busses and trains, or even lie beside our partner in the dead and wonder why they can’t understand our dreams. We ask why they can’t see that we are struggling, or that we are hurting. We become so consumed with this idea of self that we don’t understand how anyone could ever care about anything but what is afflicting us. The sad part is that the person next to you is thinking the exact same thing.

I struggle every single day to fathom just why people don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices that I have made to write. I’ve given up friends, relationships, careers, and almost everything else in my pursuit of greatness. But greatness isn’t achieved in the blink of an eye. It takes years of development and continuous redefining of what one considers to be great before such a entitlement can be reached. But we unfortunately live in an era where we bombarded with the idea that dreams and achievements are often realised overnight. But the honest to God truth is that this is rarely the case.

Clichéd or not; writers are creatures of great emotion. We break our hearts over and over again so that we can show the world our vulnerabilities and humanity. There’s nothing wrong with this. There is great beauty and release in allowing ourselves to be naked for the world to see.  But sometimes our extreme vulnerability can cause us to internalise our perspectives and forget that we are never really alone, no matter how much we believe otherwise. For me it took standing in a shitty public restroom that smelled like ammonia, beer, and regret to remember that.

The camaraderie that I chase through my writing might never come, but the intimacy I feel with strangers who I know are living through their own successes and failures is just as meaningful and rewarding. There’s a silver lining to every situation, and a lesson to be learned in every day. Sometimes you just have to shift your perspective away from the immediacy of your surroundings and ignore the filth and grime of the cubicle, and find that little shoebox sized window with the view of the entire city instead.

Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

64 thoughts on “Clichés & City Lights”

  1. Illumination can come in the most unlikely of places. You may have been alone in that rest room Chris, but rest assured that you’re definitely not alone in the way you think and in what you strive for. May we all find that shoebox sized window and wake up to life’s riches. A beautifully written post.

  2. It is funny what we can experience in the weirdest of places. The thing that Always gets me down about writing is that I feel success can take a lifetime but failure can happen in one piece of your writing. It is so disheartening sometimes and you end up forgetting about why you are writing or who you are writing for.

  3. Despair is a word that I use often. And realizing our dreams and passion is never easy. I find myself thinking mist of the days, why is it so hard and why am I suffering so much for what I want to achieve.
    You are so right, we have to look at all the things going around us and find that comfort and motivate ourselves to move forward!

  4. Yup! writer got inspiration anywhere they stand, just ’bout how the way we realized it.
    The cliche remind me of when I wrote ’bout a beautiful morning of couple in the side of a resto when suddenly a real couple came and fought just right beside of me, haha. Nice post!
    we want that greatness but we can’t forgot our writer’s thingy, right?

  5. Great post. What I picked up on the most from this is as writers we’re trying so hard to express ourselves that in can all get caught up in the ‘self’ which feels like bondage. There’s so much more release when the focus shifts to those around us and how writing might help others and the most fulfilling thing in this life is our giving/sharing to others. Which is so hard to admit when you love independence. Anyway, this was a great read, as always.

  6. ‘writers are creatures of great emotion’ – never read words simplistic and so true… Great piece of writing as always!

  7. I see it a bit differently, Chris. The point of the window is that it’s what got you to look outward. Now bars have become a replacement for the fellowship of sharing a meal and drinks with the “village”. People are disconnected and the writers, the poets, the artists are the ones whose shoulders bear the weight of reminding the rest of the world of the beauty gained by the perspective of others. My issues with writing is the deep desire to make the ordinary glamorous. I thrive off ordinary people and observing their habits because people seem to have lost their “rose colored glasses”. Did you ever stare at something you initially thought was ugly until you started to see it as beautiful. That’s life. That’s the perspective waiting for us to observe and report on. At least that’s it for me. Great post. Keep on striving because it will be worth it.

  8. I’m honestly not trolling you.
    If you go back over this to do a proofread/edit, please do not correct your misspelling of repertoire. It is placed perfectly to provide a sense of irony. That accidental drip of paint from an artist’s brush that focuses an eye exactly where they wanted it to go. It was so perfect that I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not. If so, well done. If not, say it was.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for the comment. To be honest it was a typo that must have slipped through! But as you correctly stated, the irony of it’s placement is quite fitting.
      You’ve got an excellent eye for detail.

  9. “I could whittle away hours watching strangers hang their hopes and dreams on relationships and interactions forged on a cocktail of inebriation and camaraderie. ”

    I love this!

  10. Yesterday morning I read what you wrote and it affected me…so much that when I was going to bed…I thought about your observations on the writer’s temperment…but somehow forgot where I read it. Then it came back to me.

    A few months ago, a lifelong friend who is not a writer, but is a working mom, said to me, sarcastically, “I just don’t know what you do all day.” She later added, “You have chosen a life of selfishness.” Both of these wounded me, to a point that I can’t consider this person a friend any more.

    When I write I am giving. I am being less selfish by reaching out to communicate and connect with other people. What seems selfish is also, as you point out, sacrificial. We are giving up our time to create, in words, something immortal and something moving.

    And beer and wine have their place, in opening up our minds, sometimes frighteningly, to sadness and uncontrolled emotion. There is a draw to the bar, and in its transformative spirits, which are also an antidote to daytime isolation and loneliness.

  11. I am in awe of this post. It is like a bible for writers. We speak so easily to people through our stories yet put us in an interview or the break room and suddenly we are socially awkward. I once announced the following in the breakroom of Republicans, “My cousin became Muslim after being Christian.”

  12. It’s a humbling and even humorous perspective, to realize each writer is just one of many. In our daily lives, we may feel like an apple among oranges, watching other people go about their business without reflection or pause. And in our own little microcosm, we’re busy examining our heartbreaks and making discoveries, like a scientist pouring over an experiment. But that’s what all writers do. That’s how all writers feel. Somehow I take comfort in this paradox.

  13. “I struggle every single day to fathom just why people don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices that I have made to write.”

    I guess I don’t fall into the same category or something. I don’t feel I’ve made any sacrifices for my writing. I actually feel privileged. What I give up to write is solely what I chosen. If I’ve selected to do without what someone else has, there isn’t any way I could think of these things as an unacceptable forfeit on my part. I don’t understand what others go through during their daily lives so why should I expect them to understand my path. I know, it sounds cruel, doesn’t it.? It is candid though.

    1. Me too, I’ve never felt something like I sacrificed or I’ve given up something important with my writing. When I write I share a part of my soul. It’s liberating for me.

  14. Thanks for liking my post. More than that, thanks for letting me know of you! Amazing pieces of thoughts on your blog. I feel like I’m staring at a Pandora’s box right now. This is going to be fun. Joy!

  15. Balancing close observation with the far perspectives is the art of writing – it’s like cycling on a wire above Niagara in a Force 10 gale with a puncture and a hangover and a hyperactive monkey on your back. Stimulating post, thanks.

  16. Chris, I don’t know where to commence my thoughts. So much if this resonated with me. In the beginning, I enjoyed your switch of perspective as a narrator, jumping into the mind of the reader and confronting them as the writer of the voice of the narrator, rather than just the narrator. I do this often as well. But these emotions you feel as a human, I also connected with and initially this was what made me smile. But once I saw the window with you, what an awe-inspiring sight, and believe it or not, I’ve been in that exact stupor where the whole world stops because you realize there are other people, in that car driving by, who is a completely different microcosm, with a world of his own, on his way to somewhere different. Or that also there is that person a different country, in a different time zone, or even just on the other side of town, who you cannot see, but whom you know exists, and how do they exist? How do I exist? The existential moment in the bathroom.
    In the end, your prose is beautiful and you have a great capacity to create fluid narratives that instantly expose so many emotions, so many hopes, but take the reader to discover greater understandings. Keep writing, sacrifice is good and appreciated 🙂

  17. Really echoes the emotion that I have about bars. There is nothing about alcohol that I find amusing. Its almost the only place besides a place of worship where people interact with each other and have all their emotions on display.

    Love, romance, lust and fights are all on the open display out in the field. Something which all of us feel and yet when we feel it, we are mostly alone. But in a bar, we are not. We are joined by people who are just like us!

  18. Thanks for liking my poem Breaking Free. I love your post – you have the courage at age 27 to follow your dreams which I’m only just finding in myself age 55! Keep revealing your inner brilliance….

  19. This is a very good piece – lots of insight. One line, though, stuck ,”I’ve given up friends, relationships, careers, and almost everything else in my pursuit of greatness. ” The part about the pursuit of greatness – I have found myself longing for a little “greatness”, some acknowledgement of my efforts. But, I have tried to see that the point isn’t fame or greatness, though that’s always fun. It’s about following through, enjoying the experience of writing, and hoping that my words go out there and make a difference for someone.

  20. Honestly Chris-I hope it’s ok to call you this, I know we have never met-once again, your writing has captivated me. Reading your words is like looking in the mirror at times. I can relate. It was only a few months ago that I was in a similar situation. I too, found myself staring at the city lights of Brisbane from the 16th floor of an apartment building, totally caught up in the realisation that I was not the only person that existed. I watched a boy on a bike and wondered where he was going. I noticed an elderly lady watering her plants…and then I wrote a post about it, entitled ‘Boxes in the sky”. You can find it on my blog. I’m not here to get you to read it, I was just struck at the similarity in thought. Congratulations on yet another fabulous piece of writing, Cheers Nicole

    1. Hey Nicole,
      As always, thank you for your incredibly kind words. I often find that you and I have quite similar thought patterns; as I read through Boxes in the sky I couldn’t help but feel a sense of kindredness weaved throughout your words. That is the beauty of writing, it allows two people like you and I to connect through similar ideals and shared beliefs.

  21. I couldn’t help but think of the television sitcom of “Cheers” from many years ago. People like to go where “everybody knows their name,” as the song goes. It’s nice your whole family hung out together. (I hope.) Back in the day my husband and I went to bars but I don’t miss it. I understand the ambience.

    I just read a book of short stories and a handful of pages of writing advice by Richard C. Peck, called Past, Perfect, and Present Tense. His novels, maybe, got him noticed by editors looking for short stories and so he wrote one and then more. Readers wrote him begging for particular kinds of stories. He gave fuller attention to the short stories to make them into two Newberry Winning novels for kids, but he’s had a long career, including some titles for adults. He’s got a great sense of humor and a librarian I know directed me to his titles. He talks about how we need to read in order to improve our craft. At least you know what you want, many do not. Thanks for liking “Write Light”.

    You write well.

  22. Apart form wanting to stay away from bars, I agree with you.
    I want an Old medieval building away from people with an internet connection and power carefully hidden away so that I can write.

  23. Not only reading your post, but the comments and the reaction you invoke in your readers…I am astounded. In just one post you have earned my respect, my admiration and you’ve given me the drive to continuing doing something I’ve always been told is a useless dream; to write.

  24. Well, while my scene may not be bars or nightclubs, I can say that I definitely agree!
    And this was refreshing and thought provoking to wake up to this morning! Thank you!

  25. Hey Chris,

    My guess is that the bathroom wasn’t as grimmy as you believed at the time. Either way, I’m glad you found the window.

    Wonder needs you as much as you need wonder.


  26. There’s usually a window. The trick is to look up and see it, recognize it, and take the time to look through it. There’s usually a window. Most of the time, we are too busy or caught up in our drama to look up and see it.

  27. This reminds me of a passage from the famous autistic author Temple Grandin in her book “Emergence” about her childhood, labeled as autistic, struggling to understand her world and other people and at some point she went into some room and there was some sort of window and it became symbolic for her as an opening to another life.

  28. This post resounded with me, because it’s true – writers get caught up in their own craft, and it’s too easy to become focused on the “self”. And the seeming lack of progress and lack of understanding from others can get us down and cause us to be discouraged, forgetting why we started to write in the first place! I’m glad you re-discovered that and your inspiration which can come from the unlikeliest of places. A lovely post.

  29. “You’re nodding your head; yet you’re sceptical about where this is heading. I don’t blame you. Those opening two paragraphs are nonsensical bullshit written by an author trying to astound and astonish with his philosophical thoughts and linguistic repertoire. But, as always, there is a point to this. I promise. ”

    I laughed out loud when I got to this part, it’s funny how we know things as much as ourselves. I enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing.

  30. Indeed, you do bare everything with your pen…be glad that you can though. Some of us are still struggling to be honest with ourselves, to be able to look at ourselves naked

  31. I read somewhere, writing is a way to taste life twice. We can be all people we want, various personalities and most importantly, we can create a world we imagine all the time.
    “You write because you are different. Yet by doing so you prove that you are ultimately the same as almost every great writer throughout history. You’re still a minority, and you deserve to be celebrated as such.”
    I like this paragraph when you describe how different we’re as a writer 😀 though I’m still a minority, I deserve appreciation from people who’ve read my stories. Just like what you said, you sacrifice your time, your friends and even career to write. To create a great masterpiece though the inspirations always come in everyplace such as a public restroom, that was also an effort our brain work automatically thinking about what would we write next. Those efforts made us longing of appreciations, right? I feel that too T.T

    I enjoy reading this post. And I’m asking your permission to reblog it in my page, can I?

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