Writers are a curious breed, by and large. They can be very difficult to live with. They have a tendency to live inside their own heads. Over and above anything else, they are richly imaginative creatures that bring whole new worlds to life.
To make those worlds viable and accessible for an audience, a writer must put their imagination into words and assemble those words into a coherent narrative. Believe it or not, the words are the easy part. They exist in the writer’s brain like precious metal in the veins of a mine’s rock. They’re already there. They just have to get from the veins to the page.
This requires more than imagination. Making words happen requires perseverance. Crafting new stories and populating them with vibrant, believable characters is not a once-and-done sort of thing, except in the case of flash fiction. To hammer out a long narrative that will stick with audiences and have them coming back for more, a writer has to commit time, focus, and energy to the project every day, at least in some measure. Every word counts, and every letter matters.
Keep at it, writers. Don’t give up. Making words happen is what we do, and it’s something we need to do. Our stories are worth completion, because the world needs more stories that come from unique perspectives and bring entertainment and inspiration into the lives of others. Your stories are worth telling. Take the time and energy to tell them.
I think it’s normal for creative types to experience a measure of jealousy in the entertainment they enjoy. “Why didn’t I think of that?” “How do they do that?” “What are they doing right that I’m doing wrong?” So go the thoughts one can have when consuming media in line with what one wants to create themselves. Jealousy can become trepidation and even fear. Why try to create something new where something new that’s very similar has already been created?
When I run into this question, I try to remind myself of what I feel is the correct answer: Try to create anyway.
It’s difficult, at times, not to care about the works other have done that lay within our interests and skill set. We want to know the competition, after all, to gauge our chances at meeting with the same level of success. We want that knowledge, that assurance, even if it means we have to give up on our ideas because, according to all of the evidence, the ideas don’t stand a chance.
That knowledge, as essential as it seems, gives rise to our fears. We’re afraid our dreams aren’t good enough. That our ideas will never find an audience. That at the end of all things, all we’ll have to show for our desire to create is some disconnected scraps of thought and art, a bitter feeling of repeated and callous rejection, and a whole lot of wasted time.
You shouldn’t be afraid of these things. And if you want to give your dreams a fighting chance, you can’t be afraid of them.
It doesn’t matter if what you want to do has been done. What matters is, how are you going to do it? What parts of your creation will set it apart from others? Why is it yours? Answering those questions, instead of the others I posed, will help you move forward, create more, and bring your dreams to life. You’ll find confidence and joy in doing so. And you will leave your fears behind.
The world needs more creators. Go forth, and make something new. And when you do it, do it without fear.
I’m going to tell you a secret. You might already know what I’m going to say, but it’ll be said anyway, as it needs to be repeated.
Come on, get closer. Don’t be shy.
Here it is:
Being a writer is not about publication.
Being a writer is about one thing, and one thing only: writing.
To be a writer, you must write. What is a fighter who does not fight? What is a designer who does not design? It’s less about what these labels mean to the outside world, and more about what they mean to the individual. It’s important to do what motivates and drives us, even if it doesn’t immediately turn a profit or satisfy a client. As Howard Thurman put it (and I’m paraphrasing), “the world needs people who come alive.”
So you need to write. You need to write whenever you can. And you even need to write when you can’t.
This last part may seem confusing, but consider the following scenario. It’s been a long day. Maybe you commute to and from a dayjob, maybe you maintain a household, maybe you have studies that consume most of your time. None of these things are bad. But these things are not writing. And they can sap your energy and your will to be productive.
It’s times like these you simply need to keep writing.
Jot down notes by hand. Cram a line in here and there on coffee and lunch breaks. Carve time out of the mornings and evenings, in bloody chunks if you have to, so you can write more. Convert some of the time in which you “can’t” write into moments where you deliver the facts, breathe life into characters, or open up a new world for readers to explore.
It’s a lot like physical fitness. The more you do it, and the more you work to establish a routine, the more it becomes a part of your life and the harder it is for you to quit. And if I had one true piece of advice, one thing that I know from experience that can be applied to the lives of others, it’s this:
I was going to write something about writing when you can’t write (which I may still do), but due to time constraints I couldn’t quite get it together. Here’s a similar bit of advice from earlier in the year. Today I’ll do a better job of carving out writing time than I did yesterday.
Writing, as a creative endeavor, has a lot of advantages. You don’t need special equipment to write – at the bare minimum you just need something to write with, and something to write on. You can write about literally anything you want – fiction or non-fiction, on any subject or in any style, you can even write about writing itself! And you can write just about any time you like.
This is, however, the biggest potential problem writers might encounter. Delayed writing is writing that suffers. It’s better to write right now.
Chuck recommends writing in the morning. In fact, he recommends a lot of things that writers should pay attention to. But one point he hammers home like ten-penny nails your skull didn’t know it needs is Writers must be writing. And the sooner you write, the better.
Unless you completely shun human contact and seal yourself into some kind of bubble, things are going to come to your attention that interrupt your writing time. Spouse. Children. Chores. Tumblr. Any number of items that you are compelled to contend with vie for your attention, and you will not always be able or willing to resist their call. And you know what? That’s okay.
What matters is, you learn what works and what doesn’t, and you refine what works until you’re pounding out the words as immediately and completely as possible.
If you need to get up earlier in the morning, do that. Gotta rearrange your schedule? Do that too. Discuss new divisions of chores with the other humans you live with (if you live with any). Stock up on things that motivate and energize you – coffee, Clif bars, Oreos, booze, whatever. Make yourself a plan to write more, and do everything you can to stick to it.
Because, let’s face it – we’re at war.
Time wages a ceaseless battle against us. Every day you’re vertical is an act of defiance in the face of inevitability, even moreso if you write. Which means, to me, that every day you don’t write is losing ground to the enemy. You can fight to get that ground back, but it feels like running uphill. It’s more trouble than it should be. You do much better if you simply write right now.
So stop reading blogs on the Internet, and go do that.
“Apropos of nothing,” asks one person, “what’s the name of the mental disorder/condition where a person thinks his or her art/work is never good enough?”
The immediate response from the other is, “…being an artist?”
It pretty much is a mental disorder, as it fucks with your brain almost constantly. It can interfere with your concentration and focus, rob you of confidence, and point out all of the flaws in your work while offering no means to correct or improve it. It behaves like a mental disorder, but it really isn’t. It just means that you, the artist, know your work can be better, and you want it to be better so it blows people away.
But since it behaves like a disorder, let’s treat it like one; instead of ignoring it or just throwing drugs at it (though they can help, and in this case, we’re talking about stuff like booze for the most part), let’s shine a light on it. Mental disorders are like obstacles in a darkened room: If you don’t turn on the lights, they’re going to trip you up and cause varying degrees of discomfort.
Hank Green pointed out recently that creation is terrifying. We are taking something out of the safety and security and privacy of our own imaginations and thrusting it bodily into the world. It has to stand on its own feet, and while you can cheer for it and support it from the wings, the work is the thing doing the singing and dancing. Some people will love it; some will hate it. Is this a reflection on you? No, not really. It’s a reflection on your work. There’s a difference, no matter what your head might be telling you.
But since our work is a part of us, born out of our imaginations and given life by our blood, sweat, and tears, that difference can seem negligible, maybe even non-existent. Instead of merely taking flight thanks to us, we can see ourselves as bound to the work, trying to fly along with it. We add our own expectations, hopes, fears, and doubts to it even as we tell it to take to the skies. In doing this, we bring both ourselves and the work down.
This is why I feel it’s important to keep in mind that we are not our works. Inasmuch as we are not our jobs, our furniture, our hobbies, or our khakis, we are not our works. While these things do contribute to our identities, they only truly define us if we allow them to. Just as our work has to stand on its own separate from us, we have to stand on our own separate from our work. You may paint breathtaking landscapes or reduce people to tears with your prose, but will that really be worth it if you’re insufferable to be around?
If you can accept that you are not your work, and that your work is separate from you and should be viewed differently from you, the fact that your work is ‘never good enough’ should become less crippling.
Here’s the other big thing that will pants this notion like crazy: your work is good enough.
Now, I don’t mean that first drafts and initial sketches are necessarily good enough for public consumption. I know for a fact most of my first drafts are shit. What I mean is, your work is good enough that you want to make it in the first place.
If you can get past the initial idea stage to the point that you’re creating a work of art, it’s good enough in that regard. It’s good enough if you keep working on it no matter how hectic the dayjob gets, how much you hate your boss, how many errands you have to run, and how many of your kids or pets get sick on the carpet. It’s good enough if you want to improve it. It’s good enough if you’re eager to show it off to other people even as you’re biting your nails in abject terror over their reactions.
Paradoxical, isn’t it? Your work is good enough if it’s never good enough.
If we can be mindful of the facts that our work is not a reflection of ourselves, and that it’s good enough for us to keep working on and futzing over, we can overcome the doubt that undercuts and cripples us. I say “we” because I suffer from this, too. Mindfulness of this nature is, in essence, a lot like writing and other forms of art: it takes dedication, practice, and work. And we’re not always going to get it right. Ever stub your toe on something in a brightly-lit room? It’s kind of like that. But at least the light is on and you can see what happened; you can avoid doing the same in the future if you’re aware of it.
It doesn’t really matter if you mess up; what matters is, keep trying until you don’t.