Since this is NaNoWriMo time, I imagine most of the posts that happen on this blog in November will have to do with that pursuit. No surprise there; from my perusing of the forum posts, many of you are in the throes, and could use some encouragement. Of course, from that same perusing already mentioned, I’ve seen some posts that indicate not all of our members are in on the NaNo Kool-Aid. That’s also fine; if we all agreed, what a dull world we’d live in.
Well, after long thought and careful consideration, I’ve come up with advice I think will help folks regardless of their participation in NaNo. It’s short, to the point, and after the now twice-mentioned forum readings, I think it’s about as focused and helpful as it’s going to get.
Shut up and write.
That’s what we’re all about, right? Everybody has their own ideas on what writing will do for them, whether it be personal fulfillment, clearing the decks, keeping the demons at bay, a path to fame and fortune, whatever. I’ve heard a lot of justifications for writing, many of them sounding with the sweet clarion notes of horse puckey (I originally wrote “bullshit,” but I kinda like the sound of “horse puckey” better), and none of it matters. Pretty it up however you want, but at some level, you have to write. Everything else is after the fact.
That might be tough to accept, but you know what’s tougher to take? Most of us suck at writing. It’s true; we’re not very good at it. Sturgeon had it right: 90% of everything is crap. If you don’t suck at it, why are you here? Being a good writer is not a matter of publications, because in this day and age, you can find a market for just about anything. Getting paid for something means that somebody felt that what you wrote could help sell their product; it’s a step up from simply having something accepted, but just a step.
Presumably, you belong to this community to help yourself improve as a writer, network with other writers and be part of a larger tribe, share in an identity. Those are all good goals, but everything after improving yourself as a writer is secondary. If the community aspect has overtaken the writing, you’re doing something wrong. If you’re spending more time on the forums blasting someone over their grammar or what a waste of time practice X is than writing your own stories, you’re wasting your time. You are writers, and after all the cutesy quotes and post-modern irony and 32 flavors of sarcasm are forgotten, you are writers because you write. Nothing else entitles you to that label. Or sentences you to it, whichever it may be.
Any time you can write and don’t, you deny what you are. Do that enough…well, problems will ensue. Social, economic, spiritual, you name it. Focus, for heaven’s sake. Be writers. Pour your heart onto the page, empty all your jumbled thoughts into pixels, however you do it.
Me, I write because I have to. I’ve given myself different reasons over the years, names and concepts that seemed right at the time, but in the end, all the justifications changed while the imperative remained. I can put it aside for a time, but the drive to do it always returns. Believe me, I wish it didn’t. I would like to be able to put it all down, to be able to put it aside and say, “Well, that didn’t work out. Time to try neurosurgery.” I think if that had ever really been an option, that time is long since past. I also think most of you are in the same boat, although you may not use the same terms.
I am a professional writer, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be a good one, in the sense that I consider “good.” Businesses pay me to write educational content, publications pay me to write reviews, Scribophile pays me to write blog entries like this…but in my heart, I’m a fiction writer, a hopeful novelist, and that’s a field I don’t know I can satisfactorily achieve in. I’ve written a novel, and am writing another, and that’s the only way I’ll ever know: by doing it. Doing the work, putting in the time.
That’s the only way you’ll ever know, too. Writing, revising, writing again. Finishing one story, starting another. Put in enough practice, spend enough time sifting words, and you’ll eventually figure it out. Whether the effort is worth it all to you, that’s a question nobody else can answer.
In the meantime…shut up and write.