Sunday, January 24, 2016

Five lies about being a writer

Every famous writer is asked to give advice about how to write. They are asked to reveal their quirky personal writing habits. Their story telling methods are compared as a way to teach people how to write. Some people make a lot of money giving talks telling people the best way to set up their story arc and the top three biggest mistakes new writers make.
Well I'm not famous and no one is paying me to give my opinion but I’m weighing in. I’m going to tell you what I think you need to know to be a good writer. I will start by telling you that what most people think about writing are lies.

1.  Writing is arduous and painful.
Every art form, every creative endeavor comes from a place of desire to make something. There is energy and enthusiasm which motivates a person to create. A person in the depths of depression does not feel compelled to get up and paint a masterpiece. Only a person seized by passion for an idea wants to do that. Though there may be a touch of madness in the passion sometimes, there is still a huge amount of vitality. That’s what makes art – vitality. So if you think about what it is you want to write and you feel depressed, fearful or agonized there is something wrong. Writing should make you feel like something has been accomplished. If it doesn’t, have a look at what is standing in the way of you feeling good about creating.  

2. Only certain people qualify as ‘real writers.’
I’ve fallen prey to this lie myself. This myth is perpetuated by the publishing industry and those who enjoy aggrandizing themselves by comparing their accomplishments to those of others. The industry says that if you are not already published you are not a writer. If you have not been acknowledged by well-known writers you are not a good writer. If you don't write in a certain genre. If you don’t have a degree. If you don’t have a set number of published works. If those works have not grossed a certain amount. Etc, etc, etc. But the truth is if you write, you are a writer. It is as simple as that. Grammar and spelling are pretty handy but honestly, if you can read and write and enjoy writing, you are a writer. Whether or not other people understand or relate to what you write is in no way a qualifier. If you love to write, then write. And don’t stop until you don’t want to write any more. Hopefully that never happens because I personally think everyone should write but I’m probably biased. 

      3. You must write every day.
For some people this works really well. But, like all rules, there are exceptions and for all people some things work for them and others don’t. There is no absolute right way of doing anything in art. In fact breaking the rules is how new art forms are created. A true fool-proof rule to adhere to in this vein would be more along the lines of “Figure out what kind of writing schedule works for you and your life in order to create the most consistently satisfying results.”
Another part of the writing process is not writing. Some people call it brainstorming. It can look like staring out the window. It can involve doodling or going for a walk. But a writer should never forget that this is a very important part of the writing process. Figure out what form of “not writing” helps your process best and make it part of your routine.

4. There is no such thing as writer’s block.
I find this one of the most dehumanizing absolutes of all. There comes a time when every creative person gets into a mental tizz for any number of reasons and they can become paralyzed in their creative process. In writing, people call it writer’s block. Writer’s block simply means you have something going on mentally or emotionally that is halting you from writing with the enjoyment and fluidity that you did before. People who say there is no such thing are trying to say “this halt should not be used as an excuse.” Unfortunately what is heard by people suffering under the strain of not producing the way they want to is “what you’re going through isn’t real.”
While it is true that you shouldn’t let stumbling blocks keep you from achieving your goals, you should also be permitted to acknowledge that you are having a hard time with something. If you do not acknowledge this difficulty you will likely start to beat yourself up about how you are not accomplishing your goals and you begin to feed the dangerous monsters of self-doubt and defeatism. Don’t do it. If you want to call it writer’s block, call it writer’s block. If you want to call it something else, call it something else. But whatever you do, don’t let it beat you. Take the time you need to look at those feelings or thoughts and work them out so that you can get back to the enjoyment of writing again.   

5. You can fail.
This isn’t specifically about writing. It is about putting yourself out there in any way and hoping for a particular result. As a writer, you are probably hoping the manuscript you have slaved over for months and months will be accepted by a publisher and you will see fame and fortune or at the very least get to have a book signing one day. Or your screen play will become a blockbuster movie. Or what have you. In any case you send your precious creative expression out into the world looking for approval.
Many, many times the answer will come back (politely, rudely and with silence) that the people you have approached are not interested. In these moments, especially for writers new to putting themselves out there, it will feel like you have failed to accomplish anything. But this simply isn’t true. Your original goal, if you recall, was to write something. And you did that. You can’t control what others do, say or feel. Whether or not others like what you created is really much less important than you, yourself, feeling that you achieved your goal. So remember, the goal is to write. So write and don’t believe the liars who tell you you can’t.