I don’t have a clever lead-in for this, I have a lot coming up this weekend and in the near future, so here’s something from the vault as I work to catch up on things and get a little ahead if I can.
Pop quiz, hotshot.
You’re not ready to be a professional writer. You want to keep a steady paycheck, which means a steady job, which means no solid blocks of writing for you. You’ve checked Chuck’s list and felt the crushing weight of reality telling you that being a professional writer just isn’t going to happen. But the need is still there. That thing that makes you want to put words on paper for people to read for no other reason than they make sense, possibly to entertain, and definitely because nobody else in the world writes exactly the way you do.
What do you do? What do you do?
You find a way to keep writing.
Writing as a skill, especially one aimed at earning a living, is like any other. It takes practice, experimentation, practice, failure and even more practice. Training your ability to write is like training a muscle group in your body. You pick up the weights and repeatedly use the muscles to lift them, or you run in a circle or bike the same route over and over again. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more you can do at one time. However, if you have somewhere else to be or something more urgent to do, you can work in a quick burst here and there.
It’s the same with writing. Even if you’re not doing it to earn a living (yet), you can find ways to keep that intellectual muscle in shape. Lunch breaks, mass transit commutes, commercials during a favorite show, loading screens – that’s just a few examples off the top of my head. During any of these snippets of time, you can write. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering or the next bestseller, but it might lead to something earth-shattering or the next bestseller. You won’t know till you try.
Anybody who works out can tell you that having a regimen or a trainer is the best way to stay on track with your goals and remain motivated. For the writer, that means feedback. There are quick, dirty ways to get that, too. Find a forum in your field or genre and see if they allow sample or snippet posting for peer review. Facebook notes are good for this, especially if you have friends following you willing to tell you when something stinks to high heaven. If you’re feeling up to it, start a blog.
Just like when the trainer yells at you to keep you motivated, a peer giving you feedback probably isn’t looking to erode your self-esteem. The abuse is for your benefit. It might sting and you might resent them in the moment for it, but when the end result turns out looking much better than your initial effort, you’ll be thankful for the harsh words. Try not to take things too personally, unless the critic actually starts attacking your person. Remember, friends don’t let friends publish crappy writing.
Most of us can’t become professional writers right out of the box, and some of us just aren’t ready to make that leap yet. We need to lay bricks instead of writing to make a living. However, there’s no reason we can’t work our art into the mortar between those bricks. If you look at a building held together by mortar, some of the gaps between the bricks or stone are larger than others. It adds character to the building. Again, so it is with writing. Some of our stretches of writing between shifts, tasks and days will be longer than others, and some will be far too short. But the overall effect will be a richer life and one that gives us more motivation, as we seek the next gap between bricks to fill with our mortar of words.
The most important thing is to write, and to not stop writing.