How Not To Be A Writer

Saturday, October 08, 2016
I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it will make me a better writer. I love to read writing craft books. I love taking classes. And, lately, I find myself attending all kinds of free webinars, most of which exist because someone wants to sell you a course, but they often have a few nuggets of information that make them worthwhile.

The one I went to yesterday did not have a single nugget in it, unless it occurred during the last half of the presentation, because I decided I didn’t want to waste any more of my precious time.

This webinar seductively played on the myth of writer as author. Almost everyone wants to be an author. They have an idea for a book and long to be able to point to copies of this book on their shelves as they tell their friends and relatives, “In my book…” There’s some kind of cachet about being able to call yourself an author.

But very few people actually sit down and write the book, much less go through all the hard work that makes it something worth publishing so that other people will read it. They’ll talk about their book all the time as something they’re going to do “someday.” When they run into a published writer, they’ll suggest that they’ll tell the writer their idea for a book so the writer can write it. Then they’ll split the profits. What the wannabe author doesn’t realize is that ideas are easy. Writing a book is hard.

But that’s exactly where this webinar started. You can be an author. All you have to do is hire one of those writer people to write the book for you. Or, if you don’t have the money to do that, you might have to write it yourself. And this guru was perfectly willing to tell you how to do that.

It started out okay with the instruction to set up a writing time, a schedule. True. All writers know they’re more productive if they treat writing as a job. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to force it to show up by sitting at your computer every day and working.

But then it went off into LaLa Land. The next suggestions were all about creating the right environment. Find your special writing place. Set the thermostat to the proper temperature. Choose your writing music. Drink water. Eat healthy food.

These are things newbie writers—and sometimes old-timers as well—discuss endlessly. They post pictures of their writing space. They start long discussion threads on the best music to write to. However, they’re more likely to discuss what kind of coffee or tea they drink or what’s their favorite junk food reward than how many glasses of water they drink.

The thing is, none of that has anything to do with becoming a writer, much less an author. You can spend an awful lot of time setting up your perfect place to write or shuffling through iTunes or Spotify to create the perfect playlist and pretend it’s all part of becoming a writer.

It’s not.

All that stuff is throat-clearing, procrastinating on doing any actual writing.

The next section was on choosing the right writing tools. This included Scrivener (my favorite), Evernote, and learning multi-markdown. More throat-clearing.

You don’t need any fancy tools. You can write with a yellow pad and a pencil. You can use Word, which you most likely already own, or a simple text-editing program. You can make notes on index cards or the back of an envelope, if you still happen to have any of those around.

But again, you can spend a lot of time trying out different writing applications (and, if you post a question about what’s the best one to any writer’s forum or mailing list, you’ll get several suggestions and more of those long discussions), learning how to use them, then running through editing applications, mind-mapping applications, etc. I’ve been writing seriously for fifteen years and published six novels. I have never learned multi-markdown and doubt that I ever will.

When the presenter moved on to the idea of writing a book proposal, even if you wanted to write a novel, even if you intended to self-publish, I bailed.

If you want to be a writer—or an author—there’s only one thing you have to do. You have to write.

You don’t have to find the perfect place to do it. You just have to find a place. You don’t need a playlist. In fact, I prefer writing in silence. You don’t need to buy any writing tools. You can start with whatever application you own now.

The important thing is to start writing and keep writing. Some say you must write every day. I think you can set a schedule that includes days off, just like a real job. But you have to put words on paper or type them into your computer. You have to stop saying “someday” and start saying “today.”

Now, it just happens that now is the perfect time to get started. November is National Novel Writing Month, an event which was created for all those people who want to write a novel “someday.”

During NaNoWriMo, thousands of people all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Most of them have never tried to write a novel, so you won’t be alone. You’ll learn to form the habit of writing every day, of setting a goal and, hopefully, meeting it. You’ll learn that a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. And, if you’re lucky, you might discover that your muse shows up on occasion and leads you into worlds of imagination you didn’t know existed.

So, if you want to be a writer—or even an author—click over to NaNoWriMo and join in the fun. Start writing.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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