I’m a writer, and I’m fairly proud of that. I take the craft seriously (most of the time), I’ve worked to hone my skills, I’ve studied. Much to learn, still, but that only makes it more fun. Many of my friends are writers too, and I know many writers who aren’t friends but still awesome, and I take great delight in seeing people practicing the craft of storytelling with ever greater passion and sophistication.
When I’m asked for writing advice, however, I stop being an enthusiast and become a brutal drill sergeant. From my nostrils spews a venemous vapour called ‘pessimism’ and my eyes shoot lasers called ‘terror’.
“Writing,” I always say, “is a sordid beast that feeds on your pride and vomits only exhaustion and self-loathing. Writing,” I always add, “leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, and hate…”
Well, you get the idea. I don’t talk about ‘finding one’s voice’ or ‘research’ or ‘style’. These are important topics for writers, to say the least, but they’re far more personal topics; many writers can solve them on their own and any individual piece of advice offers no guarantee of actually fitting a particular writer’s sensibilities. There are of course some stand-bys that never miss their mark: “Read Strunk & White once every six months,” or “Let your manuscript ‘cool down’ for at least three weeks after you finish it, before returning to edit,” that sort of thing.
But that’s advice for writers, and most people who ask me for advice are not writers. Read that sentence correctly, now: I don’t mean that they aren’t writers, I mean to say that they’re Not Writers.
This isn’t a disparagement, now. I don’t by any means look down on Not Writers or dismiss them out of hand. Not Writers can sometimes write very well, paradoxically, and often study hard, being very eager to learn.
The difference between a Not Writer and a Writer is the difference between someone who *could* write and someone who *does*. A Not Writer is someone who experiences blocks and obstacles and timing issues and lets them prevent him or her from actually writing. A Not Writer may certainly be creative, insightful and capable of writing lyrical prose, but most of the time they’re too busy Not Writing to get any Writing done. That’s such a shame, such a waste, and that’s the reason I so often deploy Tough Love upon those who ask for advice.
“My studies are really intense this semester, I can’t focus on anything else right now,” says the Not Writer. “I just can’t seem to find any inspiration,” he says, or “It just isn’t gelling for me, I don’t understand it.”
The Not Writer enjoys conversing with other writers (many of whom, themselves, are Not Writers), seeks insights and techniques and delights in sharing stories of the writing experience and often clearly has an affinity for the craft, but at the end of the day he’s spending all his scant free time Not Writing, and Drill Sergeant Alex Fucking Vance holds no truck with that bullshit.
Not to say I haven’t been guilty of it myself, or even that I’ve outgrown it, though I’m twice as hard on myself as I am on others. I’ve often caught myself Not Writing and, some self-flagellation later, set myself straight. There are times when the words just flow, when the emotions and plot twists and characters spark from my fingers to the keyboard, and when that doesn’t happen it feels unsatisfying and frustrating and humiliating. But a Writer mustn’t put up with that nonsense.
In what will hopefully be a short series of posts, I’ll try to highlight the most common reasons that keep creative, insightful people mired in Not Writerhood, and share my perspectives and solutions, all for the betterment of mankind.
– Alex F. Vance