This post is probably not going to win me any friends. In fact, it might actually cost me a few. If it does, it means either they might have something to think about or they might not have read this correctly. Oh well.
There are many different aspects and components of being a writer. Of those components, only one can be #1 – and that is “writing.” One of the least important components is more than just unimportant but also rather counterproductive to #1. I call that one “being a writer.” Believe it or not, there’s a very big difference between “writing” and “being a writer.” Some writers, alleged writers, are working so hard at “being a writer” that they actually do very little writing. Please take my advice – stop “being a writer” and start “writing.” Why the quotes? You’ll figure that out as we go along.
I must admit that this is somewhere between advice and opinion, and that’s partly because this depends on what kind of writing you are interested in or attempting. For example, I write fiction. If you’re writing non-fiction, magazine articles, or Reader’s Digest kind of stuff, then this might not completely pertain to you. However, I suggest you read it anyway, and I further suggest you just make a habit of doing whatever I say. I mean, how dangerous could that possibly be? I mean if you’re male.
What is “writing”? That’s simple.
1. Writing is writing. Writing is telling a story. Writing is creating characters who want things, who don’t want things, who want things that are similar or the same as the things wanted by others. Writing is getting those people and things in the same place without it seeming too convenient. Writing is carefully choreographing those people coming together and realizing that they want what others want, or don’t want, and they’re going to dance until someone wins and someone loses, or nobody wins and everyone loses.
2. Writing is doing research to make sure that what you’re creating is logical or makes a little sense. For example, I’m currently helping a young writer with a story that includes a scene in which an unsuspecting teenager is given a drug at a party. Eventually, after she passes out, someone else calls for an ambulance. How many of us know what EMT personnel do when they arrive in a situation like that? Do they bring a stretcher or do they assess the situation first? Do they have the right to take the teenager away from the home without talking to a parent or guardian or an adult from that house? Researching this crap is part of writing, and you must do it. If not, then you will lose credibility with readers if they can accurately say, “That’s not what would happen.”
3. Writing is inhaling a sandwich while finishing up a short story or novel chapter during your lunch break at work. Writing is hoping the IT people are not peeking at your screen while you’re typing a sex scene, erotica, or memoir at work.
4. Writing is also working to make sure that your rising action doesn’t rise too quickly – or too slowly. Writing is having a logical ending without seeming to have pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Writing is planting enough seeds along the way to the ending so that when the ending grows, we can see that there were hints and logical steps to make that ending seem organically grown and not synthetically created. Writing is revising and re-evaluating what you have written according to whatever feedback you may have received.
5. Writing is solitude. Writing is isolation. Writing is parking your face in your laptop for three hours while others are Keeping up with the Kardashians or watching a meaningless NBA game. Writing is not knowing the characters on Mad Men or Breaking Bad because you’re writing about your own mad men who are breaking their own bad.
6. Writing is being halfway through a 30 chapter novel when you are suddenly hit with an even better story idea that will wave to you from the shelf until you finish the current work in progress. Writing is knowing that WIP is not a radio station in Philadelphia. Writing is sitting in traffic, glancing to your right, seeing an abandoned house, and thinking, “A great story can happen in there,” and then starting the first draft during your lunch break at work.
7. Writing is having no idea where you’re going on New Year’s Eve because you’ve barely talked to anyone over the past four months while straightening out the third act of your story and adding a little more trouble in your main character’s background because he or she just doesn’t seem “bad” enough.
8. Writing is watching the news or reading an account of something that inspires you – or bothers you – some kind of victory, injustice, or crime, something that not enough people know about. Writing is wanting to tell people about that victory or wrongness. Writing is creating a character who experiences that same success – or wrongness – someone who struggles but doesn’t give up despite everything going against the cause, and then triumphing – or not – in order for others to be both entertained and educated at the same time.
9. Writing is experiencing emotional or psychological pain but having nobody you know with whom you can share that pain. Writing is putting that pain into words, creating a character like yourself, and maneuvering that character through everything or nearly everything that you have been forced to endure. Writing is having that character reach the other side of that pain – or not – in order for others to have a shred of an idea with what you’ve been struggling.
10. Writing is spending forty-five minutes changing four or five words in your query before sending it out to the 45th agent who will probably reject it like the previous 44. Writing is congratulating yourself for your perseverance while your husband or wife or whoever looks at you sideways and adds an eye roll when you tell them you can’t talk right now because you have to work on query 46. Writing is rejoicing when 46 asks for the first three or five chapters, but rejoicing quietly because you know that few people will understand except a writer friend in Iowa or California or England.
Okay, then what is “being a writer”?
There are two different types of writers who are “being a writer.” First, decide if you have accomplished one or more of the following:
– have regularly sent queries despite rejections
– have been accepted by an agent
– sold one or more short stories to a magazine or anthology
– sold a title to a small press
– sold a title to a publisher
– and probably a few more
If you have done one or more of these things, congratulations. You have been “writing.” You need to spend time being a writer, even though we haven’t defined that yet. Your version of being a writer is appropriate and no longer needs quotes. You are not “being a writer,” but you are being a writer. Go have some coffee because we will now focus on those who spend too much time “being a writer.” And let’s be clear – I’m not saying you should NEVER do the following things. I’m saying you should spend LESS time doing these things and MORE time writing. And “writing.”
1. “Being a writer” is not writing, but it is talking about writing. Being a writer is telling your friends and family all about the book you’re going to start writing as soon as you finish a Dr. Who binge. “Being a writer” is watching movies about writers who have certain quirks or superstitions, wondering who might play you in a movie, and listing the quirks and superstitions they should show about you. I’m not saying you can’t ever do these things, but I am saying that you should spend less time doing these things.
2. “Being a writer” is taking steps towards self-publishing without ever seriously attempting to query and agent. “Being a writer” is being too afraid of rejection, assuming that no agent is going to understand or accept your story because you’re so “edgy” or “ahead of your time” or “avant-garde” that self-publishing is the only way to go.
3. “Being a writer” is spending too much time checking out the Amazon ranking of your self-published book instead of “writing.” It’s spending too much time figuring out how to categorize your book in order to claim a #1 ranking in something like the “#1 historical speculative fiction with a female main character with a learning disability!”
4. “Being a writer” is not spending enough time “writing” because you’re too busy looking for writing prompts in order to scratch out a story of a few hundred words and post it on your blog. “Being a writer” is spending too much time tweeting and retweeting that blog post and putting it on Reddit, StumbleUpon, Facebook, and other places (I use them too) instead of actually “writing.” “Being a writer” is spending too much time checking your WordPress statistics, views, comments, etc. instead of “writing.”
5. “Being a writer” is pausing too long at those tweets offering 10,000 Twitter followers for $50. “Being a writer” is spending too much time deciding if your Twitter handle should have “author” or “writer” and if it should be before or after your name.
6. “Being a writer” is creating a pen name that carefully incorporates the first name of one favorite author and the last name of another.
7. “Being a writer” is spending too much time creating the perfect names for your characters, the perfect hair colors and lengths, the perfect eye colors, the perfect heights and weights, the perfect jobs and hobbies, and perfect families. “Being a writer” is spending too much time creating charts and graphs and lists of the many characters and all their descriptions instead of actually “writing” about them.
8. “Being a writer” is spending too much time researching, sampling, testing, and asking others about the best writing software. I’ve written six novels (one published), 24 short stories (13 published), and I have never used anything other than MSWord.
9. “Being a writer” is believing you will write better and more often when you get that specific desk you’ve always wanted. “Being a writer” is believing write better when you have coffee, beer, wine, whiskey, rum, or some other peripheral distraction or gimmick.
10. “Being a writer” is believing you will write better and more often when you finally join a good writers’ group. Writers’ groups are great things – but not being in one does not stop you from writing. Or “writing.”
11. “Being a writer” is believing you can only write in a certain genre. If you can tell a story, you can do it in any form. Years ago, I thought I was a “middle grade” author, likely because I was reading a lot of Jerry Spinelli and teaching those age groups. After writing one book in that direction, I then thought I was a YA author, likely because I was then teaching high school. Then I thought I was a paranormal author. After one of those, I then wrote some horror and suspense short stories. Then another paranormal, a suspense/thriller, and another suspense/thriller. Then a time travel story. Next will be something closer to literary fiction. I don’t want to be a writer of one thing over and over again. That seems boring to me. I’m not saying that writing in one genre is bad. I am saying that you should not automatically limit yourself as a writer.
12. “Being a writer” is spending too much time sharing or searching or writing cute little images (see below) about writing instead of actually “writing.”
13. “Being a writer” is calling yourself a “published author” when you know that you haven’t tried traditional publishing. If you try, fail, and then fall back to self-publishing, then you’ve got some leeway. But not unless you’ve tried traditional first.
14. “Being a writer” is being a 20-something and enrolling in a MFA program because you’re positive that everyone is going to just love your memoir about the pain you’ve suffered by driving your parents 6-year old Toyota to class after they refused to buy you a new Lexus like those 20-somethings always seem to get in Christmas commercials.
15. “Being a writer” is referring to yourself as “practicing your craft” instead of actually practicing that craft.
A new year is coming. It’s as good a time as any to stop “being a writer” and start “writing.” Good luck.