Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing, it's not for wimps

There must be something in the air or serendipity just keeps catching up, but I've had more people lately tell me they have always wanted to be writers. It isn't as if I haven't encountered this comment before -- usually every time I tell someone who asks what I do that I'm a writer -- but it's beginning to get ridiculous. I have a stock response for everyone who tells me they want to be a writer, but just don't have the time.

"Do you watch TV every night?"

"Yes," they always respond.

"If you give up 30 minutes of TV every night and write, then you'll be able to finish a book in a month, or a year if you write slowly."



The glazed look in her eyes tells me all I need to know. She likes the idea of being a writer; she doesn't really want to be a writer.

After that, they beat a hasty retreat. Give up 30 minutes of TV to write? It's unthinkable, inconceivable.

These people aren't writers, they are wannabes. The like the idea of being a writer and they have ideas, but don't know how to translate them into a book or short story. Writers don't usually have that problem. Doesn't mean writers don't get stuck or suffer from writer's block, but knowing how to write isn't the problem. The problem is getting past the hurdles and into the zone. Once there, the writing flows.

As I read Page after Page by Heather Sellers, a gift from , I read again the chapter on being a writer and it said the same thing I've been saying for years about the 30 minutes of TV.

Writing is hard even when a writer makes it look easy. It's not a job or a career for the faint-hearted or those who cannot handle rejection. Writing isn't just something you do as a hobby or because you think you have a story to tell. It's much more complicated and intense than that. Writers think about writing when they're not writing, stories, characters, dialogue and scenes brewing in their minds even when they're doing something else. Writing is hard work. It's not easy, even when the writing flows, because there's the inevitable crash of expectations when it's time to rewrite, edit and re-edit until you think you're going to scream. It's reading the same words over and over until they blur in front of your eyes and then reading them again to make sure you got all the mistakes. It's living with your characters until they become more real than the people around you. It's knowing the intimate details of a character's life until you know them better than you know yourself. It looks easy and it seems like a lot of fun -- writing in your pajamas, keeping your own hours, being able to do whatever you want and go wherever you want at any time -- but it's not always fun. Slogging through reams of research to find just the right bit of information to make a story come alive and layering texture and depth takes time. It's work, hard work.

It can be fun, too, but it's a solitary life that drains the energy out of you so you can pour it into whatever you're writing until the writing is as much a part of you as the blood in your veins and the sinew and muscle that move your bones and body.

Being a writer is sacrificing whatever gets in the way and keeps you from writing or sucks the energy out of the work. It's giving up television or having a spotless house or sleeping in on the weekends, or any day for that matter, when you suddenly figure out what's wrong with the story and knowing how to fix it. Being a writer is working at whatever job will pay the bills and keep you going until a book is finished and beginning to sell so you can go back to the job you hate to keep paying the bills while you writer another book, and another, and articles, and marketing the books that are already out so you sell enough to get your next book published.

From the outside, being a writer is being a dilettante, but that's because people don't see what really goes on and what sacrifices a writer makes in order to keep writing. It's like watching a swan glide effortlessly and gracefully across a lake. You don't see the furiously paddling feet below the surface or how awkward and ungainly the swan looks when it steps from the water and walks on land.

Does this mean I am sorry I'm a writer? No. I wouldn't want to be anything else because this is who I am and who I always have been. I think about writing all the time, picking up bits of life and storing them for later use. Writing is more important to me than almost anything else and it makes sacrificing whatever I must to keep writing worth while.

It's a thrill to see your words printed in a book and your name on the cover of a book that took months or years to write. It's also sobering because in order to keep seeing your name on the cover of books and on bylines of articles and stories, you're not done working yet. There's another hill to climb to get to the mountain beyond that. There are valleys and plateaus where you can rest, but the work goes on. It never stops. That's the curse of being a writer -- it's also the blessing and amazing magic of being a writer. There are always more words to use and more stories to create and more lives to be lived by the intrepid adventurer who ventures into writing. It's a never ending life that takes almost as much as it gives and it's worth more than giving up 30 minutes of TV every day.

One thing I have learned is that if you want something badly enough, nothing and no one will stand in your way. You are willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to get what you want. If you don't feel that way about writing, you're not a writer. If you are a writer, you will find a way and the time to write. It's as simple as that.

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