Movies and TV always depict writers sitting at keyboards (or more rarely with a notebook in hand), fingers thundering away as the words flow out of them like water. And I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it’s like that. When it’s really good, it’s like that. It’s smooth and satisfying, like water, but thick and essential, like blood.
But the percentage of time that writing comes good? I’m just making up numbers here that feel right, but I’m going to say, being generous, 30% of the time. That leaves a whopping 70% of the time when writing is hard work, when the only moisture you’re getting is from your own tears.
There’s so much to writing that doesn’t ever really get talked about by anyone outside of writers, perhaps at a convention or in an MFA program. There’s planning and research and editing and running a business. That’s right. You want to be a writer? Now it’s a business and you’re the CEO. Even if you decide to go the way of traditional publishing, you’re still in charge of producing the product everyone is going to work on. You’re still the manufacturer. A manufacturer of stories. Sounds glorious, right? And it can be. But… not all the time.
What a lot of people won’t tell you is that writing is hard work. Like, really hard. *imagine I inserted a Chuck from Supernatural gif here*
Hemingway famously said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
No offense intended to the man, but that’s only true when it comes good. Then, you’re just bleeding. It’s pouring out of you onto the paper through the pen, typewriter, or keyboard. Maybe you’re making a mess, maybe you’re making a masterpiece. Maybe you’re just telling a good tale.
But the truth is, if you’re going to be a writer, you have to sit down even when you don’t feel like writing and do it anyway. You have to plunk your butt down in the chair in your office of choice (bedroom? Starbucks? local park? wherever) and put your fingers to work even when what’s coming out feels like the veriest trash.
To continue Hemingway’s analogy, you have to write even when the blood won’t flow. You have to keep digging at your skin and eking out every bit, drop by drop.
Maybe you can’t write your novel today, because it’s feeling cardboard and reading it makes you feel like the biggest hack on the planet. That’s okay. Go write something else.
Write fan fiction (but for god’s sake don’t steal other people’s work and claim it as your own).
Write a blog post, like I’m doing now. Share your angst with the world.
Write a poem or a short story that has nothing to do with anything you’re currently working on.
Sometimes you can’t write, the blood won’t flow, the vein has collapsed. But you’ve gotta keep going. Tap a new vein. Find the right one and it’ll bleed sweet for you.
Sound gruesome? It may well be. But it’s the truth.
You have to work through the fits and starts and just bad writing, though. There is going to be bad writing. Accept it. It’s okay. Everyone writes badly from time to time. We just generally don’t see those versions. We get polished versions that have been run through dozens of sets of eyes.
We don’t get to see the stuff the Big Bads write that resembles a dried out cat turd. But I guarantee you that every writer has those moments. Still, they persist. They keep on writing. They edit and edit and edit and then edit some more. They don’t give up.
You can’t either.
If you want to be a writer, you must persist. You have to put the words down on paper, either literally or in a Google doc. You can edit shit writing. You can’t edit a blank page. If the story just stays in your head, it’ll rot your brain worse than candy and trash TV. You have to get it out of you.
And then, you have to keep working. Edit it. Rewrite it again. Edit it better.
Manufacture the fuck out of all the stories.
Then, once you’ve got a finished product, you can start worrying about the hard stuff, like self-promotion.
Seriously though, get your ass in a chair and get your fingers on your keyboard. Maybe not every day, but most days. You can do that. You know you can. You have the time, if you want to make it. Watch one less episode of Criminal Minds, or spend less time on Facebook. You can do it.
Even when it sucks. Like tonight.
See? You did it. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
(Yes, yes it was. And it still feels like dog turds. But it’s something I got out. I tapped a small vein. And that’s better than nothing.)