On Being a Modern Writer
Nobody will ever miss something you didn’t write.
People don’t wish they could find a genius they are unaware of, hanker after a writer to inspire them, or wish they could find the book that hasn’t been written.
It’s the harshest reality a writer must face.
Nobody cares whether you finish your magnum opus — or gives a toss whether you work on it at all.
A book is nothing until it’s published — and even then, given the way things are, it’s unlikely to sell more than a few copies.
Funny, I write for a living. Have done for the last 20 years. You can get a lot of eyes on things if you include the words: “money, fast and easy” in your marketing but write about anything else and your stuff pretty much disappears.
It’s never stopped me though, because I’m a writer, and writers write, no matter what happens… can you say that?
Writers must find their own reasons to write — and be self-motivated enough to continue without anything but selfish reasons to finish what they start. As Dorothea Brande said in “Becoming a Writer”, writers create their own emergencies. They have to, because nobody else really gives a damn.
Recently I was rereading Stephen King’s “On Writing” and I noticed something I’d previously missed.
He said he used to believe that writing was a craft and that it could be taught; a skill that, with enough training and guidance, anyone could master. Note, he said he used to think that.
Later in his career, after he’d written around twenty novels, he changed his mind. He realized that the urge to write consistently must be something you’re born with.
Think about it — writing for no good reason (except a personal compulsion) is an urge that is so specific — even a little bizarre — that, without it being somehow hard-wired into a writer’s DNA, most people, no matter how keen to learn, simply wouldn’t bother.
It’s not like it’s easy, after all.
Some people say that if you find writing easy, you’re probably not doing it right. I know from experience that authors who tell me they found writing their novel a breeze, signals that there’s usually a need for some serious editing!
Don’t get me wrong. I do think that writing the first draft of a story or a book should be quick, painless, or at the very least, an exhilarating experience. That’s usually how your best work feels. When you’re ‘in the zone’ and being productive and inspired, you’re a writer, just like any other Dan Brown, Emily Bronte, or Tolstoy.
But that’s not all there is to it.
There’s endless editing and polishing too. And having something important to say. And having the ability to hold an entire book in your mind — and get it all down on paper. And, of course, the toughest call: being able to arrange your life to find the time and inclination to write every day.
Not everyone thinks writing is glamorous. Even many professional writers have no great regard for the process, only the conviction that, to create something of value and importance, you have no choice but to do it.
You and only you.
Of course, ‘value’ and ‘importance’ are relative terms. That’s the point. Only Tolstoy thought it was vitally important to write War and Peace. It had no value to his wife, most likely, and none of us would have missed it — or him — if he’d become an alcoholic and never got around to writing more than a few hundred words and threw them away, like many would be authors do.
The next time you’re tempted to write a book, think it through.
Is it important you get it all down?
And are you willing to spend 80% of the process on making it perfect?
Because, like Mr King, I used to think that writing half a page of scribbled lines gave you the right to call yourself a writer.
But now, after I’ve written a couple million or so words, I’m beginning to think that being a writer is more involved.
It’s somehow innate in a writer’s makeup.
Perhaps practice is all it takes — consistent action and dedication to the art.
But more likely you need to discover the writer within — that guy or gal inside who was never going to be satisfied until you gave them free rein to take over your life.
But if the muse isn’t there, except as a vague yearning, maybe the best thing is to quit while you’re ahead!
Because being a full-time writer is still one of the hardest ways to live. Ask any author. Even when you’re successful, the motivation to write, stay focused, inspired and clear for long periods can be tough.
Sure, it’s rewarding — and often fun.
That’s if readers find you — and like what you do…
But be clear on this: commitment to writing books is not for the faint hearted. And it’s certainly not for those who might be looking to make money fast and easily.
You need patience, and to be a little bit crazy.
Take one step at a time — walk slowly and surefootedly — but be sure you have good sturdy shoes before you start.
The Writing Academy