I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue. This giant, awkward, socially inept, elephant in the room.
I’ve been in the field for a while now, in various capacities. I’ve listened to the wailing, to the arguments, to the ‘but…but…my voice!’. I’ve read the reviews that make me want to poke hot spoons into my eyes and cut off my fingers so I never write again. I’ve bled on other people’s manuscripts, only to have them tell me I’m a douche-hat who has the sense of an ostrich trying to bury its head in cement.
So, today, I’m thinking about what the truth of being a writer is. This entire perspective could change by tomorrow morning. Or even after I’ve had my full cup of coffee today.
But here it is.
Writing is hard. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have said ‘I could write a book. No problem.’ Or who have compared it to a hobby, much like washing dishes, picking lint off stranger’s clothes, or cleaning ash from the fireplace. But the truth is this: writing well is damn hard work. Just like any craftsperson, you don’t just pick up the tools and make something beautiful without knowing how the tools work.
You practice. You try things, and sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes someone bleeds on your manuscript, and you have to suck it up. Because writing well is hard. Learn, study, and practice. Get better. Don’t assume you know everything and everything you write is perfect. It isn’t. It never is.
You earn your stripes. Yeah, we’ve all heard the stories. Some author who never put a word down to paper had an idea, and their first book made them a billionaire, and now everyone will buy anything they write.
Know what? That’s not you. Or me. Or 99.9% of the other writers out there grafting for every perfect word. You aren’t going to build your audience and have people flock to you when you’ve written one book. Or two. Or, maybe even ten. You have to write, and write, and write. And learn (see above). And get better with every book. And when you’ve got a whole bunch of books out there, and you’ve learned and gotten better, then you can worry about the fact that you only have 2.3 followers on Twitter and the only FB messages you get are from women with enormous breasts from other countries. And they’re certainly not asking about your books.
It takes time. Earn your stripes.
It won’t always work. If you’ve read your reviews, or other people’s reviews of other books, you know that people can be incredibly cruel. They can take issue with your cat, or your choice of socks. Both of which have nothing to do with your novel. They can also be very kind. But the fact is, you’re not going to please everyone, and sometimes, a book you thought was great won’t get the audience you’d hoped for, and a book you thought was just okay will get accolades. And sometimes, a book fails to take a breath. It happens.
So keep writing. Keep learning. Get better.
Write because you want to write. Not because of people. I think this is the most important one. We live in an age of instant response, of social media spreading the word and telling us who is out there. Of favorites list that we don’t get on, of reviews from ‘respectable’ places that never see the light of day. Of having to market ourselves to let people know about our beloved words.
All of that can suck the life out of you, and your creativity, faster than an anteater can eat an anthill. Or faster than grandma will box your ears for laughing in church.
Write because you want to write. Write because you have stories to tell. Write because you love the creation of something that wasn’t there before. Write to still the voices in your brain. Do it for the love of it. Not for the people. One will often come along because of the other.
That’s the truth of being a writer.
It’s hard. You get better. It doesn’t always work. Do it because you want to.