Here’s a scenario that makes me crazy: You’re sitting around chatting with a non-writer friend, having brunch or guzzling margaritas, whatever you might do with your friends, and your lovely little companion mentions an intriguing event coming up this weekend. Perhaps a museum exhibit involving artifacts from the Salem Witch Trials, or a Blues Festival where you are guaranteed to meet people who haven’t been sober since 1972, or one of those “Celebrate Food!” things, where fancy restaurants offer cheap samples of their wares, and this year’s theme happens to be “Bacon”. Something you’d normally like to do. But there’s a hitch.
Me: “Well, I really need to work on my book this weekend.”
Friend, looking up from her margarita, salt glistening on her lips: “Are you still working on that?”
That. That right there is what makes me crazy.
Non-writing people don’t get it. This doesn’t make them bad people, of course. It’s fair enough to say that most people who don’t share the same proclivities as you won’t always get what your passion entails, regardless of what that interest might be. But it seems that when it comes to the word-crafting world, there’s an especially annoying gap between perception and reality. Non-writing folks generally adhere to serious misconceptions about how one goes about writing a book. Let’s look at a few of these jacked-up viewpoints, shall we?
1. It’s easy.
No, it’s not. It only looks easy to you because you can devour a novel in a few hours and you’re assuming that the input equals the output.
2. All you have to do is sit down and write it.
Well, there’s a small grain of truth in that. You do have to sit down and write, unless you happen to be one of those people who dictates your thoughts into some type of recording device for an underling to type up at a later date, in which case you can swing in a hammock or float down a river whilst you compose. Most writers do not have underlings. Or hammocks.
And it’s not like the sitting and the writing can be accomplished in one afternoon. It can take years. And this leads to our third point.
3. It shouldn’t take that long, right?
This is where I can understand why certain authors descended into madness, even as they were cobbling together a masterpiece that wouldn’t be recognized as such until 46 years after they threw themselves off a fog-shrouded cliff because they were tired of people tapping their foot in anticipation. Writing is a process, sometimes a very long one, and it simply doesn’t happen overnight.
As writers, we have days when things click and the birds are chirping and the sun is managing to break through the smog. Good days, days when you might rip out 5 or 10 pages of satisfying stuff that’s going to work just fine. Then we have those agonizing setbacks when it can take you an entire week to bludgeon a simple paragraph or two into something that properly transitions the action from Scene 3 to Scene 4. (Seriously, I have nearly gone insane over a single sentence so many times that I deserve a merit badge of some kind.)
And this is where the non-writers, despite how much you may love them or sleep with them, don’t connect. It can take so much time to get your words right.
And this is where I finally get to the real theme of my babbling, thus far.
Are you devoting enough time to your passion?
You should be writing every day. Every. Single. Day. I’m by no means the first to say this, and I’m not taking any credit for the theorem. It doesn’t matter if what you are working on has any relevancy, will ever see the light of day, or is even worth hitting the “save” button. Do it anyway. Capture your thoughts in a (presumably) digital manner, review your words for whether or not they express what you meant them to, and then decide if those words are worthy of any space on your hard drive. (If you’re like me, there will be times when some of the crap you hack out will end up being dumped into the black hole of oblivion. And that’s fine, at least you tried, instead of sitting around and wondering why you’re not the next Stephen King or JK Rowling.)
Now, I’m the first to admit that I went through a long period (decades, really) where I didn’t “write for publication”, but I didn’t stop “writing”. I work for a huge conglomerate, which shall be unnamed because I’m on the cusp of reaching early retirement and I’m not going to jeopardize that (and I’m not as old as that might make me sound). During many of my years of servitude with said company, I functioned as a “quality trainer” who was supposed to teach people what they should do in their job duties as opposed to what most of them would actually do once they were released from class. (Most people never listen. And then they point fingers when they are accused of not listening. This is why so many countries end up changing their names over time, things are just not working out with the citizens and we need to do a bit of re-branding.)
Despite the annoyance of the non-listening, I made the best of my “not first-choice profession but I have to pay the bills” career by spending a lot of time honing my writing skills with the training documents I had to produce. 90 percent of the people who read those documents could not have cared less about the effort and thought put into the production. They also did not care about the motivation behind the regular broadcast emails I had to send to the entire building, reminding the non-listeners that they were still not listening. (Other trainers in other locations would send out a half-ass email reminder, composed of maybe three lame sentences that didn’t explain jack. I would craft a six-page missive, peppered with some anecdotal humor here and there, because laughter will always win you more votes than autocratic dryness, carefully explaining how certain sheep were straying from the fold.)
Some of my training documents, and even some of the much-forwarded emails, are still a part of the official training repository for the company, despite upper-management regime changes, obsolete product offerings, and stock-price fluctuations.
The point I’m trying to make, and I realize that my objective arc can be somewhat fuzzy at times, is that you should always have integrity about your written words. Take a mundane writing task and infuse it with your style, your spirit, and own that task. You don’t have to be working on a story or a book or a screenplay. Each opportunity to craft words is just that, an opportunity, and as a writer you should embrace it. It doesn’t matter if the audience doesn’t care. You should care about the audience.
Write every day.