Writers Should Not Be Writers

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….

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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.

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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.

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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?

17 thoughts on “Writers Should Not Be Writers

  1. I totally identify with all these points! Especially the impatience … I have an idea and I want it to be written (to publishable standard) already! That being said, I do like the proces of taking my earlier drafts and bringing out the shine. But, I can’t seem to do that alone. As sensitive as we are to it, we need the reality check of a good critic …

    • I totally agree with that. I can revise on my own until the cows come home, but after my editor gets ahold of my work then it really starts to make sense. 😉

  2. I just wrote a post called ‘you know you’re a writer when’ and I think these should definitely go on the list!
    Really great post, and “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.” really struck a chord with me.
    I hope I’m a writer who’s cut out to be a writer.

    • Well, I think anyone who actually tries to write down their ideas is cut out to be a writer. It’s all the rest of it that trips us up! Keep up the good work! =D

  3. I completely agree, and I love the urgency analogy you’ve used! My husband was having a hard time understanding why I moan and groan over my writing so much, and I told him that letting someone else read it was like going outside in nothing but my underwear. Not the end of the world, but definitely feeling exposed. Even anticipating that “reveal” makes me an insane perfectionist, but I’m also procrastinating. I frankly think it’s a miracle any books ever go to print. Perhaps that’s why publishing is such a deadline-driven industry.

    • It is a miracle that anything gets published! And I think the fundamental divide between writers and publishers is that publishers are not writers … if you know what I mean. 😛

  4. A couple of quotes I have heard seem appropos:
    “Writing is easy, you just stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on you forehead!”
    “Everybody has a novel deep inside them. And in most cases, that is where it should stay.”
    “Don’t be a writer if you can possible avoid it.”

    I can relate to this post, especially the dreamer part. As a computer programmer, we have a similar problem. The part that intriuges us is the problem, the business of figuring out how to solve it. Once we see the solution, the fun part is over and all that is left is the grunt work of actually writing it and editing it. And who wants to do that? We’re on to the next interesting problem.


  5. Oh, one more:
    “What no spouse of a writer can ever understand is that a writer can be hard at work while staring out the window.”

  6. Hi Merry,
    Writers are intimately involved with people no one else knows. I noticed this walking with my husband through the park that I rambled on about Yvette and Townsend. They aren’t our friends, children or even dogs. They our the characters of my WIP. My husband was probably grateful that Colt and Eileen had been shelved. 🙂 Thanks for your blog, so I don’t feel like the only ADD writer.

    • Yeah, isn’t it funny how fictitious characters become such close friends? And I’m sure my best real-life friend is sick of me talking about them. But it’s what writers do. 😉

  7. Your post is so true. For the longest time I thought everyone had people in their head talking all of the time. I love to write and would write even if I didn’t have a writing contract. It took me 22 years of pursuing my dream and it came true last Christmas Eve. SO dreams do come true if you work hard enough.

  8. And even though I’m a journalist, not a novelist, I would iterate the difficult aspect of the business of writing. “I’m a writer” means about 50% writing and 50% being in the scene, doing interviews, invoicing, keeping up w/ paperwork, filling out tax forms, negotiating/signing contracts… It irked me that in theater school we had oodles of classes on how to be an artist and one (totally crappy) class on how to have an artist’s career (budgets, promotions, taxes, etc).

    And I can relate to the voices needing to get out, except for me, they’re not the voices of characters, they’re the voices of people I’ve met. I’m sure the urgency feels the same, though.

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