Friday, August 29, 2014

So You Want to Be A Writer?

I'm going to start of this post by making the assumption that most of you reading these words found your way here because you think you want to be writers. I am here to tell you that unfortunately, most of you don't.

And the Internet howled in outrage.
Now I'm sure there's some of you who are here in an earnest search for information. Maybe you're in high school or college, and you're starting to seriously consider a career as an author of some variety. Or maybe you've completed the hard work of getting your manuscript from your head and onto the page, and now you're looking for the next step.

To all of these people, this blog entry is not for you.

So Who Is It For?

This blog entry is for all of those people who think they want to be writers. For people who will criticize published books despite not working on a manuscript of their own. For those who talk about how "writer's block" stops them from getting the job done, or who make excuses about not having the time to write. This entry is for all those who say "one day," or "I'd like to, but," when they talk about writing. It's for all of those who want talk about how magnificent their mind palaces are going to be to those of us sweating and straining to lay the foundations of very real careers.

Stop. Just stop.

You don't actually want to be writers. You think you do, but you don't. Let me tell you why.

Lost In Translation

In all fairness, this isn't entirely your fault.

Have you noticed how English isn't really good at being specific when it comes to the exact meanings of certain words? You need look no further than the word love to see the problems with English. When you say you love someone, how do you mean it? Are we talking a deep, emotional, spiritual, and sexual connection like you'd have with a life partner? Do you instead mean the kind of platonic love you'd have for a sibling, or the sort of love that can only be found in deep, life-spanning friendships? Do you mean the kind of love you reserve for children, or the kind you keep especially for cupcakes?

I love you too, cupcake.
We experience the same problem as English-speakers when we say the word want. As pointed out in this article by Cracked, two people can use this same word in amazingly different ways. When some people say they want something it's a statement of purpose. For instance, someone might say "I want to get my bachelor's degree in the next four years," and mean that they're signing up for classes, buying textbooks, and burning all of the oil they've got, midnight and otherwise to accomplish this goal. Other people will use the word want as a kind of blanket statement that can be translated as "wouldn't it be nice if...?" These are people who want things like world peace, or to get six pack abs by sitting on the couch, or to someday work in the computer field without getting the training or degrees necessary.

Some people who say they want to be writers fall into the former category. Most fall into the latter.

How Can You Tell?

As I said in this entry right here, there's only one kind of writer; the kind who writes. If you don't write, then you're not a writer, plain and simple. Before you start arguing, check this list of signs against your behavior. Do you:

- Make excuses for why your book isn't being worked on?
- Have no idea how to publish your book once it's done?
- Constantly find other things to do besides write?
- Talk about how great your book is, but never actually put words on the page?
- Trust that the book will take care of itself instead of attending talks, reading articles, and going to conventions that could help you network and find a home for your book?

These are just a few of the signs that your want doesn't have the razor edge it's going to need if you're going to be a writer. If you were serious, if you wanted to write a novel, or a short story, or an anthology, or a textbook, or whatever your project is you would be constantly planning it. You would be checking the guidelines from various publishers to see who would accept your work, and reading up on self publishing to see if it's a viable option. You would be devouring books on technique and voice along with guides to the industry. You would be looking for talks by established writers, and spending a little bit of time every day on your manuscript. Maybe it's a few hundred words, or whatever you can get done in an hour, but you would do it day in, day out, without fail.

Why? Because you want a book with your name on the cover and your picture on the book jacket, that's why.

Change Today. Tomorrow is Too Late

There's nothing to say that you can't turn your blanket statement into a statement of purpose. You could finish reading this entry and then go back through my archive on writing technique, reviewing good and bad tropes, and learning about how to become a better writer. You could seek out guidelines from companies like Tor or Baen Books, and take a gander at what you're going to have to accomplish. You could spend an hour with a notebook and a pen, drawing out your plan for your project. You could even open up a fresh word document and write the first page or two.

But you have to keep going.

Writing a book isn't about pushing one, huge stone down a mountain. It's about pushing a bunch of smaller ones down that incline every day. It's about putting in the effort to create the avalanche until the habit is so thoroughly ingrained that you can't stop. This is what it takes to be a writer. Unfortunately it means you're going to have to find that time somewhere. It might mean sacrificing your TV or video game habit, or watching fewer movies on the weekend. It might mean not going out for drinks after work, or switching to a 1-hour workout instead of a 3-hour bike ride.

If you don't do it though, nothing's ever going to change.

As always thanks for stopping in at The Literary Mercenary. If you'd like to get my updates then follow me on Facebook or Tumblr, or just put your email address into the box on your right hand side. If you want to help out then click the shiny new "Like This" button on your upper right hand side, make a donation by clicking on the "Shakespeare Gotta Get Paid, Son," button on the right, or drop by my Patreon page and become a patron today!

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