Writing is serious hard work. It requires patience, dedication, focus, a commitment to learning the necessary skills, practice, and, if you’re published or planning to publish, time spent marketing. Non-writers may have a hard time understanding this. Beginning writers may not understand it either. And nine times out of ten, hard-core writers just don’t get it either. Why? Because writers are some of the most ill-equipped people to be writers out there.
What on earth do I mean by that? Writers are writers, right? They’re the ones that write books and stories and poems. How could they be ill-suited to doing what they do?
I once heard a brilliant quote: A writer is someone for whom the act of writing is particularly difficult. And yep, I believe that. I can’t tell you how many times in my own writing world the spirit has been willing but the fingers won’t move. Whether it’s a bout of writer’s block or distraction and procrastination or that damn day job getting in the way, writing is more difficult than any of my beloved non-writer friends could believe. Here are a few reasons why….
Writers are Dreamers. I have an overactive imagination. I have always had an overactive imagination. As far back as I can remember I would entertain myself with daydreams and stories. Sitting in a hammock in my back yard on a summer’s day, falling asleep at night, while at a party where no one was talking to me, in class as a student, in traffic on the road, while doing busywork a my day job; the number of times I’ve found myself off in la-la land where my imagination runs wild have taken up more time in my life when I’ve been paying attention.Guess what? This doesn’t necessarily help you write. Sure, it helps you come up with ideas and it helps you work through them and develop them. But writing? The actual writing takes a lot more focus than that.
Those of us with a writer’s nature tend not to be the most focused people out there. We’ve got our heads in the clouds when, in fact, writing takes discipline. We come up with a thousand fantasies and then torture ourselves by sitting still for hours on end bleeding into a computer. It doesn’t come naturally, this drive to work. It’s a huge effort to tie a creative spirit to a chair for hours a day and make it do something other than dream.
Writers are Impatient. When I have a story in my head I want to write it down NOW. It pulses just under the surface. It talks incessantly. The characters squeeze their way into my everyday thoughts, begging me to get them out and tell their stories. The urgency that I feel when I have a new idea is comparable to being on a long car trip and seeing a sign that says “Next Rest Stop 50 Miles”. It’s agony!But the fact of the matter is that it takes a long time to write a novel. I’ve managed to throw out some crappy first drafts within a month and a half, but those are just first drafts. It takes months to revise and edit, and that’s not counting the time that a novel needs to sit before you regain your perspective. And that’s just my process. If you take the traditional publishing route, or even if you do the self-publishing route right, it could take months or years of percolating while editors look over your work and artists design your cover. You can finish a book and not see it for sale for years!
Torture! The whole reason we had to write the story in the first place was because we were dying to write it. And then we have to wait. It’s enough to drive us crazy (if we’re not already crazy). But that’s just the beginning. It takes time for a book to sell. It takes time for a career to take off. It takes time to build a back list. The whole thing takes serious, serious time.
Writers are Sensitive. When we write a book we put our whole soul into it. The well-known phrase “bleeding onto the page” is incredibly apt. I identify so much of myself from my writing that it’s hard to keep things in perspective sometimes. And that’s before sending my work to beta readers and editors. No novel is perfect the first time. In order to write something really good you first have to have someone tell you it’s really bad. You have to have an educated set of independent eyes look at it and point out the warts.As much as it hurts to have your work critiqued, that is nothing compared to the sting of the bad review. They come like thieves in the night, after you’ve bled on paper, after you’ve had an expert tell you what you did wrong, after you struggle to stay focused enough to revise and perfect, after you’ve exhausted yourself and your writerly resources making your novel the best it could be. That’s when some troll comes along and pans it. Or worse still, when some very intelligent reviewer doesn’t get it.
Writers are not the sort of people who can take criticism easily, and yet it’s an integral part of what we do. We are the kids who would burst into tears when one of the mean girls called us “ugly” in third grade … and yet we voluntarily put our soul out in public. We are just not the sort who are capable of receiving a one-star review without flopping on the couch with a box of wine and a gallon of ice cream. But we continue to do it. We continue to subject ourselves to torture.
So why do we do this? Why do we, the sensitive, impatient dreamers, continually force ourselves to focus and subject ourselves to criticism?
Because we have to. We can’t escape from it. The only reason we do what we do is because we could no more stop writing than we could stop breathing. Because the oxymoron of our existence is that we thrive on all of the things that are not natural to us. Man, we’re weird! But aren’t you glad we are?