“I want to be a writer.”

How many times have I heard that before? I’ve said it a few times myself, picturing shelves of my publications and imagining little children and beautiful women flocking to read my latest. (Somehow, in my fantasy, I’ve written a secret-formula crossover that appeals to both fifth graders and supermodels.) Apart from the ridiculous breadth of fandom, the dream doesn’t seem impossible. I really think I can publish. Many of you probably can, too. The trick is in the writing.

The difference between wanting to be a writer and being one is, simply, writing. That’s it. We all have our excuses. We’re too busy. Too tired. Too whatever. But maybe it’s time to tell your excuses they can shove it.

“But I have nothing to write about,” you say. Or, “But I’m not creative enough.” To the first excuse I say, “Are you familiar with any people, places or things? If yes, you have something to write about, so close your cakehole and write.” The second excuse garners a bit more sympathy (more, that is, than a cakehole comment). It may well be you’re not creative enough to write a great story, but to write a story alone requires barely any creativity beyond the ability to sit at a keyboard and punch away.*

Others of you might find your writing thwarted by what those in the business (and everywhere else) like to call writer’s block (not to be confused with Writer’s Bloc, a community of savant Soviets scribbling away somewhere in St. Petersburg). I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s a myth we use to cover up our earlier excuses. Again, you may not always write well, but you can always write. And bad writing, given enough ink or keystrokes, has a way of turning suddenly to tolerable writing, and before you know it you’ve written a sentence that might be salvageable, might even be good enough to let live, let breathe, let stick around until the next draft.

So, don’t let the excuses creep in. Every dream has its lurking ghosts, every garden has its tempting serpents, but it’s up to you to put pen to paper and write them away.

Evicting the excuses may be a chore at first, but I think writing is like running; it’s a healthy, freeing thing that eventually becomes a habit, becomes something you rather like doing, becomes something you can’t imagine going without.

But not so fast. What about my excuses?

I’ll tell you what my problem is… I’ve always wanted to start a sentence like that… my problem is overthinking, is envy, is distraction by all the things that could ever be.

What do I mean?

I mean I spend too much time considering what I could be writing and how I should be writing it. I’m forever surfing to sites that lend writing advice (Vonnegut’s tips are tops). Sites that tell me how long a “typical” novel should be, as though that’s what I’m aiming for. Sites that report at what age bestselling authors were first published, as though I need reassurance that I’m not past the age of literary procreation. And questions arise: Should I try genre fiction or go literary? Is a first-person child narrator as likely to be published as a third-person know-it-all? Will I have a better shot fielding short stories, or should I jump straight into the novel?** All of these questions catch me right in the trachea and squeeze. So, here’s an idea, maybe I should stop comparing myself to Roth, stop trying to write Lord of the Flies, stop wondering what if and just freaking write.

That would be something. A writer who wrote instead of slinking along in half-measures, dwelling on mirages.

Now, you might be saying, and with good reason, “Griffin, you punk, who are you to talk about being a writer. You have no credibility.” That’s fair. Jonathan Franzen or Zadie Smith or pretty much any author you’ve ever heard of (simply by virtue of your having heard of them) is better qualified. But, remember, the reason they’re qualified is the fact that they didn’t waste time, didn’t show off, didn’t trick themselves with wanting to be writers. They wrote.

Which brings me to a pretty plain axiom, but one I think is terribly true: We do what we want.

If you really want to write, you’ll write. But if you find time and again you’re not writing, that you’re throwing excuses against the wall in an effort to convince yourself tomorrow, for sure, then maybe you don’t truly want to be a writer after all. You’d rather do all the things you’re doing instead.

From the top floors of New York publishing houses we may not look like writers. No bestsellers here. No movie rights sold. No teenage or supermodel fans clamoring. Not even a hometown booksigning… yet. But, hey, I wrote this today, and now you’re reading it, which is more than the wannabes can say.

So, if you want to be a writer, go write.

 

Notes:

*If you’ve never seen Finding Forrester, do yourself a favor and watch it four or five times. Sean Connery tells his padawan to “Punch the keys!” which leads to the unforgettable, “You’re the man now, dog.”

**The highlights, so you don’t waste your time searching: average literary fiction works are 80,000 to 100,000 words, though Of Mice and Men is 30,000 and War and Peace is 590,000 (according to Amazon). Average age at publication of first professional novel: 36.2 years (according to Jim C. Hine’s First Novel Survey, skewed toward fantasy/sci-fi fiction). And, on average, authors sold 7.7 short stories before selling their first novel, though the median is only 1 short story. Almost half of the 246 authors in Hine’s survey sold their first novel without any previous short story sales.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I love this. Thanks for the stats at the bottom — I was very curious.

    My problem when it comes to writing is this thought process: “I wrote something! I think I like it. Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t tell anymore. Someone else needs to tell me if it’s any good, but I can’t show anyone to ask them if it’s any good because what if it’s really stupid and I just can’t tell now that I’m five drafts in?”

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I cannot tell you how much I sympathize with that thought process. A lot. That’s how much.

      I think writers often think their words are good while writing it, then lose faith in it later. While I’m all for having confidence, the ability step back is important. I never know if I think my writing is decent right away. It’s not until I come back after a week or a month or a year that I feel like I can judge it for style and coherence and aesthetic.

      Sharing your writing with others is one way to get this more objective perspective right away (but, like you, I’m reluctant to do this). This fear might best be conquered by finding a mentor or a group of writers your trust (and who won’t scoff) or, perhaps, sending your writing for publication in magazines, journals, websites, books, etc., where feedback will most likely be constructive without coming across as personal attacks.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Absolutely! Writers write!

    And Laura, I totally get what you’re saying as well. I’ve heard one writing teacher say, write a story, then go write three more. Come back and look at the first one again, and by now, you’ve grown enough that you can tell: is it good, bad; how to fix it, etc. When I first heard that, I was all like “Pah! I’m writing novels, that will take too long.” But then I finished my first one and had no idea what to do with it: was it good? Horrible? How to fix it? So then I wrote three more.

    There’s pretty much no escaping really good advice. And also, there’s no quick anything in this writing game. At least, not for me!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Absolutely. It’s tough step back from a piece for a month or even a week, but it helps so much.

      Reply

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