If You Want to be a Writer, You Need to Write

There’s a whiff of Zen about the statement. An apparent invite to “Thanks Captain Obvious” quips. Yet recent conversations with fellow writers both aspiring and professional has led me to the same conversational eddy, a kind of black hole accretion disk rotating around a small and simple truth.

Want to write? Then write.

Stay off your smartphone. Better yet, inter it like a 14th century plague corpse… in a drawer… in a room far away from you. It may gnaw at your thoughts like the One Ring, but having it literally out of reach is a big step towards achieving that quasi-mythical state known as “Writing Time”. I know writers who incessantly grieve about how they never have time to write, while they make twenty Facebook updates daily and engage in yet another online flame war.

There’s plenty of time to send that text, or hop onto the social media virus and witness more proof that the world has gone mad. Your Facebook post can wait: the outrage, troll-fests, and safe bubbles of confirmation bias are all distractions from what you should be doing. Online advertisers and Russian trolls crave your attention, but your story requires it. 

If you want to be a writer, make the time. Carve out a couple hours in the morning before work. Middle Eastern trade routes peddled coffee, Voltaire crooned about coffee, an industry was founded upon coffee… and it was all for you. Stagger out of bed and brew a pot of the stuff that is black as ink… and ink is the pelagic sea that writers swim within.

Is coffee not enough to help you crawl out of bed in the crepuscular hours? Try going to bed earlier. 

Are mornings still not your thing? Then arrange some writing time in the latter stretch of a terrestrial day. I understand that coming home from work is entering a gauntlet of Things Requiring Attention. Discover the difference between required tasks and the optional ones. The Netflix binge can wait. Kids, dog, spouse, dinner, mother-in-law may not be negotiable elements, but a couple hours before bed can equal a couple hundred or thousand words.

Or maybe your weekdays are simply too crazy. Let Saturdays and Sundays be your friend. You don’t need to write every day. You don’t have to devote eleven hours to it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your story won’t be either. There’s a line in The Two Towers (the book, thank you very much) from an unusually eloquent Gimli. The dwarf catches sight of the caverns beneath Helm’s Deep, and explains to Legolas how the children of Durin would love to “tend these flowering glades of stone.” As he explains: “With cautious skill, tap by tap–a small chip of work and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day–so we could work…”

In the same way, if you only manage to write a few hundred words, that’s okay! It’s a few hundred words closer to completion. That’s the tap of the dwarven hammer, methodically opening up new passageways. 

Need to do research? No, you don’t. At least, not while you’re writing. Research is imperative to a story’s construction but there are times to do it and times not to, and when you’re sitting at your computer facing the glacial whiteness of a blank document, that’s exactly the wrong time. “Doing research” is often the excuse we use for procrastination. It has a way of pulling us down a rabbit hole, so that what started as a study of Babylonian water-clocks somehow leads to hours of YouTube videos showing water towers being demolished.

Do you need to research Gallic cooking, orbital mechanics, or the Macedonian phalanx? Use the time you ordinarily waste scrolling through your newsfeed. You probably can’t write at work, on the subway, or waiting to pick up the kids from soccer practice… but you could use that time to learn when the typewriter was invented or why lunar dust sucks. It’s far more nutritious to your story-in-progress–as well as to your own personal evolution–than sharing yet another clickbait article like chum to eager sharks. No one will remember your hashtag five hundred years from now, but people continue to read Sappho and Sophocles.

I know many talented people who are constantly gearing up for their Big Project, but they somehow never get around to actually doing it. It’s the reason why I no longer do collaborations, as I’ve found that the majority of people are always eager to talk about that tabletop game, book, script, or play they want to create… but when it comes time to deliver on a deadline, they choke. The Big Project and all its promise dissolves into a flurry of excuses. They fail to realize that writing is a discipline, not some occasional drug-induced dance of the Pythia. It is equal parts art and craftsmanship, and that’s not even getting into the business of writing that is required.

It takes commitment, discipline, and most importantly time to be a writer. If you’re not prepared to siphon off the hours needed for it, then this isn’t your game. We make the time for what’s important to us.  I’ve learned that people are extremely good at riffing about things they’d like to accomplish, but actually doing it–converting thought and fancy into action–is not common. Project management is at least as important as the flash of inspiration from the Muse.

If you want to write… then write.

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