I’ve been quite unfair, in this series (of which this installment is the last) in sketching a Jekyll & Hyde scenario of the Writer vs the Not Writer, because we’re all a bit of both. At different times, for different reasons. There’s a sliding scale between one and the other, see. The goal of these articles is to make you reflect, honestly and fairly and without emotional burden, where on the scale you fall, and whether you’re comfortable with that, and what is required from you to change your position.
How many hours do you spend writing in a given week? A given month? How many words do you write in those hours? Would you want to spend more hours writing, and write more words during them?
Why do you want that?
There’s nothing wrong with being a Dabbler, who cranks out the odd snippet of story of a blue Monday for the lark of it, nothing at all. A Dabbler is a Writer when he Dabbles and a Not Writer when he Doesn’t — but still a Writer some of the time, and isn’t that a fine thing to be? The problem is when a Dabbler dreams himself a Novelist and finds that his habits won’t produce a novel in a realistic time-frame and of satisfying quality.
So what should he change: his habits or his goals?
Most of us wouldn’t mind firm pecs and visible abs, or a wasp-waist and perky boobs (and in some cases, curiously, both) and almost all of us could have that if we ate what the books told us to ate and nothing else and spent an hour at the gym really working ourselves to the bone every day for three years. Some of us do it, and some of us don’t. We look at the dream, assess the value it has for us, then look at the actions required to attain it and the effort they cost us, and we compromise. We all have lots of different dreams, after all, so is this one worth that much effort?
We can’t write all the time, we’d never get anything else done. Every prophet in his house, to each its season, and all that malarkey. Now is the time to do the dishes, now is the time to study, and now is the time simply to snooze and relax for a bit. There are only so many hours in the day and we must each decide how ours are best spent.
We have obligations, voluntary and necessary, financial and familial, that require us to commit a great number of those hours. Such is the way of adult life, but even then, the responsibility to mediate between commitments and liberties is entirely ours. And it’s up to us to define the value of time, as well.
Is twenty minutes’ standing commute to work in the morning a time when I can write? And on the way home? Can I get in the writing groove if I know I can be interrupted at any second? If my muse fails me, should I just leave her to rest for a few weeks or months until she loves me again?
I’ve made fun of these questions, but they bear serious thought. If you only write sporadically, can you fulfill your dream of having A Novel published? Not likely, mate, but that isn’t the end of the world.
If the circumstances of your life, your preferences, your habits and your values don’t permit you to invest the time and energy to write a novel or to become a prolific short-fiction creator, then you really, really need to chill the fuck out. You don’t have to stop writing altogether, just don’t burden yourself with such expectations. Writers’ block: same deal. If your wheels are stuck and skidding in a snowdrift, take her down into lower gear and ease back on the road. You’ll feel better, and who knows, that might be just the thing to help you get back on the highway to novelizing.
If your goal means a lot to you, and you don’t want to quit, then you’d best get out and run on your own two feet, no matter the cold and ice and bears. Confront the Not Writer in you and tell him he needs to watch his fucking step — or else. Practice discipline. Figure out ways to use the dead time in your day for writing, block out a half-hour every day (and more on weekends) to do some writing, and don’t ever tolerate any excuses from anyone, least of all yourself.
You’re exhausted? Tough shit, bitch. Go write the story of your exhaustion, even if it’s only a page or so. Your sister’s getting married? You’d best get up an hour earlier then, you maggot, if you want to get some writing done today. Forgot your laptop, and is your cellphone out of juice? Order a cup of coffee and ask the waitress or bus-boy if you could have a few pages from their notebook and a Bic pen. Watch them flush with excitement when you tell them you’re a Writer, and see their eyes sparkle as you instantly become 15% more attractive — and believe you me, that’s a SCIENTIFIC FACT.
Every day is a battlefield between the part of you that is a Writer and the part that is a Not Writer, every day a fresh conflict. If you let the Not Writer win too many battles, you’re a Not Writer. If you hold your own, you’re a Dabbler — but if you can look yourself in the mirror in the morning and know, honestly, that the Writer won the battle yesterday and the day before and will almost certainly win today and tomorrow as well, then baby, you’re doing it right, and you know what you are.
And sooner or later you’re going to find that you love it.
Not just the satisfaction of having the words just flow when the spirit moves you. Not just the thrill of finishing a piece and sharing it with others, tittering on tenterhooks while you wait impatiently for their praise. Not just the egoboo of mentioning offhandedly to a stranger at a party that you’re a Writer (and gain +15 in charisma, as I mentioned). You’ll love all of it.
The exercise of your intellect and imagination to craft the next scene of your story despite the fact that your muse has fled you. The strength you must muster to stave off sleep just twenty minutes so you can wrap up a juicy dialogue. Your ingenuity and fortitude, thumbtyping your magnum opus as you cling for dear life to a handrail in a derailing train and hit ‘send’ just as it careens, screeching, into the depths of oblivion so that even when the phone is smashed and your bones are pulped you can still pick your story right up where you left off as soon as your new Cyber-limbs have been grafted onto your brutalized, barely-sentient thorax.
There’s no shame in having a few pounds ’round the tum you could stand to lose, none whatsoever, just don’t expect people to swoon over you when you flex your unseemly bulges in public. There’s no shame in Dabbling for the fun of it, just don’t torment yourself with the illusion that you’ll crank out a novel when you ‘get a little more time’ or ‘figure out the trick of it’. There’s no get-fit-quick pill, and there’s no magic bullet for your inspiration.
This concludes this series on the Not Writer. Good luck, soldiers!
– Alex Fucking Vance