Stop Dreaming and Start Working
People told me I was a writer before I knew what being a writer really was. I didn’t earn that title, so it was hollow and meaningless. I am still fighting to shake the facade and be a real writer. All the time. Every day.
Falling for the feel-good, everyone-gets-a-trophy nonsense doesn’t get the writing work done. A little confidence boost helps once in a while, but too much of that makes you start believing things that aren’t true–like thinking you are a writer when you are not writing. Or at least when you are not writing productively. Because I can do a lot of writing that doesn’t help me reach my goals, which the loving, encouraging you-are-a-writer people say makes me a writer. But it doesn’t. Have you been bamboozled too?
1. You Write a Journal
Even if you do it every day, you are the only person who thinks that stuff is good. Friends and family wanting to read your journal does not constitute an audience. They just want to know your dirty, little secrets that aren’t all that dirty. They will be disappointed. Your journal is boring, even if you put it online. It may contain a few seeds of good writing, but that still doesn’t make you a writer. It is writing, but being a writer is more than dumping every mundane thought on a page. It is an useful practice to get the words flowing and clear your mind. But then you have to write for real.
Many writers give the advice to write every day, and I took this and ran with it. In the wrong direction. “I’m already doing that! I write a journal every day,” I thought. I avoided writing anything of worth by telling myself at least I was writing something. Meanwhile, I was producing nothing. You know what that made me? Not a writer.
2. You Have a Novel In Your Head
So does everyone else. Whenever I tell people I’m writing a novel, there is a 50/50 chance a person will say, “I have an idea for a novel I want to write someday.” The majority of those who don’t say it are thinking it; I’m sure. You know what? Someday is never going to get here. These are the people who romanticize what it is to be a writer. I suffer severe eye strain from the effort it takes not to roll my eyes around my head like a slot machine when I hear about the someday novel. Until you sit down and suffer through tens of thousands of words and labor through “the dreaded middle,” you are not a writer.
3. You Read About Writing
A subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine does not make you a writer, nor do the thousands of writing books and websites out there. I read a lot of books about writing and own even more. Sadly, some of those books give the exact kind of empty encouragement that provoked me to write this. In the end, it’s about production and content. Knowing all the rules, tips, and tricks doesn’t make a writer any more than reading about basketball makes you an NBA player. Knowing the mechanics of something and doing that thing are very different. Reading about writing will make you a better writer… when you write.
4. You Are Planning
There is a difference between setting up to do work and doing work. You may be learning, growing, researching, playing, thinking, but until you start putting words to paper or screen, you are not a writer. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re working by reading every book and webpage on the various topics in your book. Doing some legwork is good and necessary, but it can take the place of the actual result. Over-planning is procrastination in disguise, and if all you’re doing is procrastinating, you aren’t writing.
5. You Are Waiting To Be Inspired
Inspiration or the Muse or motivation or whatever name you want to slap on that drug-like high that makes you create is unreliable. Waiting around for that fickle bitch might (and that is one big might) result in one work over the course of a lifetime. And that is if you can stay focused on one project. What usually happens is you start a book, you write a scene, you get an idea for a poem, you write part of an article, you draft the end of a short story, you write another scene for another book, and on and on and on. You end up buried under mountains of unfinished projects. And you are not a writer.
Be a Writer Or Be a Writer?
Any human can write. Being a writer means you sit in the chair even when it’s the furthest thing from romantic. You string one mediocre word after another to form a terrible sentence that might or might not have a point. You plod along when inspiration seems to have gone on permanent hiatus. You question yourself, your story, your reason for being, and you still write. You don’t make excuses to write anymore than you make excuses to live.
Had I gotten more tough love years (heck, decades) ago, I would have at least one book out by now. If you want a touchy-feely, meaningless trophy label of Writer, go find one of the writing groups full of hobbyists, someday novelists, and journal writers waiting for inspiration. If your ego is so delicate that you think I’m being mean, then you won’t be able to take the truckloads of rejection waiting for you as an actual writer. If you want to be a writer, be a writer! Then you’ll be too busy writing to worry about your label.