Every writer wants to succeed. But not every writer takes the time and hard work it takes to do so.
There is this magical illusion – and I don’t know where we, as writers, found it – that writers spend their days lounging around, waiting for their muse to walk up to them with an idea on a silver platter, and then go and translate that idea into a masterpiece over the course of a few hours, earning thousands of dollars by that little note of inspiration. And while that illusion has become slightly modernized over time, it still pictures the writer as only writing when inspired by his muse, and as spending a great deal of leisure time in between.
That illusion is bullshit, and no, I’m not pardoning my language (writers never should.)
Let’s set the record straight: writing is hard work. Writers know that. Examples:
- Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. – Ray Bradbury
- People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it. – Harlan Ellison
- Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it. – Will Haygood
- The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything. – John Irving
- Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position. – Stephen King
- The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write and keep on writing. – Ken MacLeod
These are all well-known, successful writers. They are telling you the secret – in fact, Ken MacLeod’s pretty simple and blunt about it. Write, write, and keep on writing. Think of writing as a never-ending, urgent cross-country trip. You only make pit stops for daily needs; for eating, sleeping, the bathroom, and whatever else your vices may be – smoking, alcohol, drugs, people, family, pets – those things that you could technically do without but which keep you fueled. Writing should consume as much of your day as possible.
Notice I didn’t say perfect writing, or good writing. You may write something for days on end and then throw it all away; I have many times. You may write down a small seed of an idea, and lay it aside, waiting for it to grow – I have several of these as well. You may spend most of your day doing “work” writing – fulfilling client obligations, writing pieces that get you paid on the side – and only a little on the inspirational writing you dreamed about doing since you were a kid. That’s OK. All that matters is that you are writing incessantly.
But what about writer’s block you say?
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write. – Terry Pratchett
Terry is right. There isn’t such a thing as writer’s block. Writer’s block is this made-up concept that goes back to believing that the muse fairy’s magical inspiration is the only thing which feeds a real writer, and that anything that does not feel so “inspired” is rubbish. That’s what writer’s block is – it’s a moment in which you lose your inspiration. Most people hit this wall, despair, and call it a day. Those people are not writers.
Although I cannot remember who to attribute this to – I’ve skimmed too many writing books at the book stores for my amusement – I do recall reading this idea from some author who penned it down in a “how to write” book:
The muse fairy is real. No writer can deny they haven’t had moments of brilliant inspiration, in which they must rush to the nearest method of putting words down, or must jot down a sudden list of ideas before they disappear and are forgotten.
But here’s the secret about your muse: she’s attracted to sweat. She likes hard work. The more you work, the more you write, the more she’ll inspire you. She’s addicted to you writing. And it’s true – the more you write, the more you will be inspired.
So tuck Twitter to the side; close all those games on Facebook, and pull open a text document or a notebook, and write until you bleed words. It’s the only way to success.