How to be a Writer (a modest theory)
Do I really want to be a writer?
Everyone who ever glanced at a pen must have asked that, and many of us keep asking. For myself, I think one reason it’s hard to answer is that it keeps leading to other questions to answer first. So I thought I’d try to pin down those questions, and try to find a way through them.
Who is a writer, and who’s a wanna-be?
Sorry, I don’t think this one has a clear answer. Is it when you can talk about writing with your friends? Or when you make your first traditional sale—except then you start needing some bigger success? There’s no one threshold here, but the question points out one thing: we all want writing to have a reward that’s worth the cost.
Can I be a real writer?
Here’s an unpleasant question, because we all have a few doubts. Let’s try to narrow it down some, and look at what those answers say about the writing’s reward and cost:
What’s the best thing to do to be a writer? (And can I do that?)
Feel that? We’re getting warmer now…
–Is it getting my work out there?
Sometimes. If you don’t share, submit, and promote what you write, nobody else is going to pull it out of the bottom drawer for you. But it’s not the key.
–Is it learning to write better?
Some. Feedback, taking classes, or pouring over the best and the worst stories out there can open up whole new worlds for any of us. But, it’s not quite the key…
–Is it writing?
Okay, so the other “answers” were only there for this one to put them in their place. Still, “just write it” is the advice every blogger will give, and it isn’t always enough to motivate us. Could there be anything more to it…
–Is it to KEEP writing?
It’s simple truth: every time you write, some of your struggles to make the work better WILL get easier, because there are damn few problems on Earth that can stand up to sheer practice multiplied by days, months, years of building a better mousetrap. (Even though this is one of the few professions where we rarely feel we’ve improved, but that’s another storytelling post: the Scary Bicycle.)
And, bonus: if you mix ongoing effort with some of that promotion above, you build up your body of work, your reputation, even your income. Do it right and all of these only keep growing.
Is there anything I have to write?
This is a tricky one, because it depends on another question:
What’s writing going to give me?
NOT money, or even fame and respect—not if you understand about how little you’ll get, compared to how many years it takes to get there. But if you do it right, the reward you’ll get most of is…
The years you spend writing. Once you find your own balance of sheer fun, or insights to share, or clever craft, or mass appeal, then your playtime (don’t call it work) will drag you to the keyboard every day and make you fight the world for more time to spend in that zone. You’ll still have your slow starts and dry spells, but the writing itself will be as close a friend as you’ll ever have.
What you have to write is, whatever will keep you writing. What will set your work on fire with joy.
(And honestly, if you think being the toast of a convention each month would be worth grinding out three books every year that you hate, you aren’t seeing that effort clearly. Even Stephen King’s royalties can’t make up for the fact that he spends most of his life writing, so he spends that time with the stories he wants. Take a look at Jeff Goin’s Writer’s Manifesto, and take his challenge.)
The writing life never gets far away from putting in those hours. (Okay, and some promotion and learning, I hope.) But it you spend half a day capturing a hero’s way of speaking, working out how to bribe a mayor or describe a dragon’s fire playing over a catapult… doing whatever you want is the only way to make it worth all those hours.
–“Worth”? What I don’t get is why anyone would do anything else!
Want to hear more? Let me know!