Thursday, December 6, 2007

Rule Number One: Writers Write

"You certainly seem a more dedicated writer than I claim to be."
- comment sent to me

Here's a writing topic worth writing about. Something that I know about (sort of), have struggled with (before still and in the future) and something that I feel I can speak about and do it justice (sort of, again). Writers and writing, the eternal conflict between the two of them.

There are many people who want to be writers or claim to be writers but find trouble understanding the profession and what it means to be a writer. "I can't find motivation" they say. Or "I can't find time." Or "I have no ideas" or "my writing is terrible so I don't write." For all the writers in the world, there are a great number of them who don't write. Who are afraid of or even dislike writing. I'm not picking on the friend who sent me this comment. It just inspired me to go ahead and address this issue now instead of later.

I will tell you the hidden secret to being a writer! I know it, and it's deep magic, pulled from the depths of a great wealth of experience and angst. I quested into the past and into the present far and wide looking for the answer, and I finally found it sitting there in a shining treasure chest on a far off island where the natives always tell the truth and the visitors always lie. And I opened that chest, and what did I find? A chorus of angels. Heavenly light. And the answer to writing.

Writers are writers. What does a writer do? Writers write.

Huh? You might scratch your head. I certainly did when I ran into that pearl of wisdom. Writers write? Surely there must be more than that. Some sort of trick. Some sort of know-how. The secret society of writers where they all band together and give each other some potion that motivates them to produce written works. The Brotherhood of the Pen or something equally evocative and enigmatic. And alliterative, also, apparently. (That's a triple and then QUADRUPLE alliterative score, for those of you playing along at home.)

But I'm here to tell you what every writer will tell you after a while, amateur and professional alike. There is no secret society. There is no secret, even. There is no mystery to our profession at all. Writers write. What does that mean? That means that we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and make words. That's what we do. We consider that our goal and our focus. I don't care if you're a journalist, a novelist, a poet, or whatever. A writer is a writer is a writer. We all have got to eventually write words. That's what makes us who we are.

And it's not easy. Let nobody tell you writing is easy. It's pretty neat seeing the professional writer, sitting there talking about his novel, the small compact book sitting on the shelf. You look at it and think to yourself: gee, that's so small, how hard could it be? That writing gig looks like cake.

I laugh everytime someone says that. It's a very, very bitter laugh.

Writing is hard. Excruciating. It goes against how our bodies and minds are programmed to work. It taxes your creative energy, your logistical skill, your emotions, and most likely your time and your health (both physical and mental). Writers, especially creative writers, have an abnormally high rate of mental illness and suicide. Nobody's sure why, but take it into consideration. Writing is a demanding job. It's not for those without will or perserverence.

And that's the key. What separates that 'one day' writer who sits and says "I'm a writer and one day I'm going to write a book!" or heaven forbid, "one day I'll be a writer" from the person who actually does it? In the end? Willpower, self-discipline, and hard work. If you continue to say "one day I'll write" you're setting yourself up for failure. You WILL NOT become a writer with that mindset. You won't ever find time, you won't ever be hit with motivation, the muses will not drop mystical fairy dust laden with ideas on your head.

If you want to be a writer, you only have to do one thing: write. Write now. Write today. Write immediately after reading this. Write while you're reading this. I don't care. And I don’t care what you write. Write a poem. Write an essay. Write a short story or a novella or a novel. Write trashy fan-fiction. Just get online and look for 'writing prompt' and write a short bit on the prompt. It doesn't matter how much or how little you write either. You can write 50 words or you could write 50,000. Do it now. Don't wait. In fact, stop reading this and write something down. Like I said, I don't care what. Come back when you're done.

… I mean it. Go. Now. We'll talk when you're done. I'll still be here.

Done? If not, you should feel guilty, and either go write or recognize that you might not have what it takes. Not terrible, just something you'll have to make peace with. Now, if you did do what I asked? Guess what: you're a writer. "Really?" Yes, really. That's exactly what I do or any other aspiring dedicated writer and it's exactly what James Joyce did and its exactly what Frank Herbert did and its exactly what Tolkien did and its exactly what Stephen King does or anyone else who you admire or trust in the literary world. It's no different. No magic formula. We sit down and we write. Most of us probably started slow, and waited for that brief flash of inspiration. It doesn't come. It might dance in front of you like some sort of ghost from time to time, but it goes away faster than you can capture it. Guess what? I've done that. More times than I've thought about. Chasing the will-o-wisps of 'inspiration.'

And if you're the struggling writer, wondering why you can't write everyday, you have two choices. You can ignore me and keep waiting and always wait and wait for the inspiration that won't come, or you can sit down and put words on a page. If you can only write 500 words one day, that's fine. The next day sit down and write again. Don’t judge what you do one day based on another. Just write. You won't like it. It won't be fun. It'll feel forced and your writing will be terrible.

Do it anyway.

If you actually listen and write every day, you'll find that you get in a habit. You might not like it, and it might not be fun, but we're creatures of habit and once it sticks we won't feel right if we don’t write. And when you feel like you're not doing enough, do more. Don't set an upper limit. Having an expectation is fine, but be realistic. Don't expect to just start pounding out 5000 words a day. Or even 1000. Or even 500. Just write. Find what you think you can do and try for that. You won't make it every day. Don't beat yourself up about that. When you beat yourself up you just cause anxiety the next time you write. Accept that sometimes plans go awry and write the next day as if the day before never happened. And if you write well one day, twice or three times your limit? The next day you're going to sit down and write again. No celebration. You're a writer. You don't celebrate. You write.

Don’t have the time? That's untrue. If you can't find 15 minutes in your day, then you need to reevaluate your priorities. Either one of your hobbies is more important than writing or you're doing an unhealthy amount of required activity. And if its your hobbies, look at them carefully. Are they more important than your writing? If yes, then you're probably not very seriously considering being a writer, and you might want to look at changing your mind about what you want to be. If you're unsure how serious you are, cut down on a hobby for a few weeks and write. Just 15 minutes, even. That's fifteen uninterrupted minutes sitting at your word processor of choice (or notebook or typewriter) and writing. Don’t think. Don't talk. Don't surf the net. Just write. Make words. For fifteen minutes. Then go do whatever else you're doing with your day. Come back in a few weeks and read this again, and see if my words make sense. If they do? Congrats, you've solved the great puzzle of writer-dom. If they don’t? Maybe writing isn't for you.

But don't wait. Don't ever wait. Writing isn't a job anybody's going to make you do. You have to fight for it every step of the way. You have to make the time and use the time and write like its going out of style. Because guess what? It is going out of style if you don't stop it. You're the only one who can make you into a writer. I can't do it. I can help give you advice, but you have to make that choice and make that leap. If you don't decide to be a writer now and write now you never will.

So stop claiming to be a writer and feeling guilty about not writing. Stop saying 'one day I'll write a book'. You won't. Don't lie. Either put up or shut up. Good intentions don't buy anything, and talk is cheap. Only the words you create will prove your intentions. I'm not asking you to present me a novel. Just write. Anything. Do it because you want to be a writer. Learn to love it. You can learn to love it, even if you don't believe me. Don't do it for the approval, the money, or the acceptance (because let me tell you, there is none). Do it for yourself. Do it because you have the burning thoughts in your head and the desire to make the words come alive. Do it because you know in your heart that you should be a writer. It's simple. Write, and you're a writer.

I believe in you. Now you have to believe in yourself.

Good luck, and good writing.


Tony said...

Very astute. I learn a lot from your blog posts, but I know I will never call myself a writer. However, it's pretty easy to take your insight and adjust it for other aspects of life.

Literary Rock Star said...

Oh, it does indeed apply to other things. It's not just about writing, though that's the scope of my vision for the post. Grasping what you want and making your own future real is the best way of achieving most anything you truly want.

There is no motivation but what we make for ourselves. No future but the one we create and define right now.