“All I can do. . . is write daily, read as much as possible, and keep my vocabulary alive and changing so that I will have an instrument on which to play the book if it does me the honor of coming to me and asking to be written.”
I just don’t get writers who don’t write. If you say you’re a writer, make sure you have something to back up that claim. And I’m not talking about struggling writers—people who desperately want to write but don’t have two seconds of free time to rub together or those other tormented souls who would only write if the mental block would move out of the way.
There’s a particular type of so-called writer that drives me nuts, the type that enters a writing course, presents a piece to a class full of writers, and is unprepared, even offended, when the other writers pick apart her precious offering. Or how about the guy who writes something that has potential but needs some major work before it’s submission worthy? After a round of constructive criticism, he knows his creative process wasn’t appreciated, and he refuses to revise his original draft because that would somehow mean that the words that poured from his imaginative well are no longer pure. I’ve gone to school with both of those types. Many drop out of the writing courses that they assumed would showcase them as beacons of creativity to the rest of us. One guy I knew wasn’t “feeling it.” When the requirement of the class is to apply the necessary changes your classmates recommend, and you can’t bring yourself to so much as fix your spelling errors, you not only don’t make the grade, but you also let yourself down as a writer.
Now, I am certainly not saying that everything we start must be publishable. There is a reason that we write first (or what some call “drawer”) novels. Maybe they are worth resurrecting, but if so, they most likely need considerable revision to make them readable. What I am saying is that there are so many of us who would love to have the time to make mistakes and learn from them, but that little thing called life makes it very difficult to for us. It’s why I abhor lazy, excuse-making writers.
I have an uncle who I don’t see very often, and invariably, when I do see him, he asks if I’m still writing. He asked me once when my elder son was a year old. I felt the question coming and squirmed in my seat. Write? I knew he didn’t mean my daily journal. He was asking about my story, and at the time, I was concentrating mostly on finding an agent, slogging through my old copy of Writer’s Market, hoping to find the perfect match. The problem was that I wasn’t trying nearly hard enough, and when I did send out the occasional query, my lackluster attitude showed whoever read it that I wasn’t ready to publish yet. That happens sometimes. At that point, I was not only a struggling writer, but an uninspired one, as well.
All writers go through those periods. And when we do, it’s best to be honest about them. Sometimes writers do need a break, either from a particularly difficult project or just altogether. (By the way, those little vacations are great times to read.)
For those frustrated writers, the ones who want so badly to say, “I’m a writer” and mean it, remember that writing isn’t the only part of your job description. Reading is a must, as well as being a part of the greater writing community. Years ago, when I first got involved in Fiction Fix, I had to attend and even participate in public readings, and there was little I dreaded more than getting in front of a bunch of people and putting myself in the spotlight. I want to share my work, yes, but I am shy in large groups. With the internet, however, I can choose how much I want to participate and be much more comfortable. If you have the time to read one blog a week to stay motivated, by all means, do so. If you don’t have the time to visit a bookstore or library, much less read the books you already have, consider picking up magazines or literary journals. There are great articles and short stories out there that you can read while you wait in line for a cup of coffee. (Shameless plug—check out Fiction Fix or my short story “Stranded” at Smashwords.com.) If you have a smart phone, welcome to your new e-reading device.
You don’t have to read to be inspired, though. Visit a museum if visual art does it for you, or listen to your music of choice. At a time when it was particularly rough for me, just getting pen to paper, I read my friend Amy’s blog and found new hope when she suggested that the act of thinking is part of the writing process.
If you do have the time, and you choose to join a writing course, workshop, or conference, you have an incredible opportunity to be motivated and also to grow like never before. Just be ready to find out that your considerable intellect and creativity are not enough to save you from criticism and rejection. Those are two facets of the writing (and especially publication) process and no reason to feel unappreciated and give up (but that’s for another blog). If you quit at the point when you think it hurts most, you not only stunt your own growth, but you might not be available when that perfect story shows up, needing to be shared with the world.