I Ain’t Crazy; I’m a Writer
© 2015 Alan F. Zundel
The hardest thing about being a writer is the (usually) subtle messages your friends and family convey without necessarily meaning to. Their facial expression, the tone of voice, the cautious questions while trying not to be discouraging say it all: “I hope you can deal with failure.”
The assumption is that to be a writer is to seek recognition which is unlikely to come. If it does not come—and it usually does not, for most writers—you will feel like a failure, a fool for having put time into such an unrewarding endeavor.
There Is No Try
Notice my first sentence didn’t say “trying to be a writer.”
For many people there is an implicit set of benchmarks to reach in order to be considered a real writer:
• Has your work been published?
• Have you been paid for your work?
• Are you making a living at it?
Having met the first two of those benchmarks, I think I am in a position to render an opinion about this. The first and most important benchmark was not even mentioned:
• Do you get stuff written?
What is not always recognized is that the real success of a writer is that he or she actually gets stuff written. Of course recognition is desired, readers confirmation that your writing is readable, but the biggest hurdle is to move from wanting to be a writer to actually being one. You’ve jumped that hurdle when you write.
As Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
(Actually, I first heard that idea expressed three years before Star Wars was released. George Lucas must have purloined it from somewhere else. All writers, you see, are plagiarists—it’s how they use what they’ve stolen that counts.)
You can only “try” to be a writer by writing, and when you are writing you are, by definition, a writer. Failure, therefore, is when you do not write. A failed writer is someone who had a writer inside that never actualized on the outside, in action.
How To Succeed in Writing Without Really Trying
So if you want to be a writer, don’t just dream about it, talk about it, read about it, complain about your lack of time or your work responsibilities or family demands—write something!
If you don’t write something, it is impossible to publish something. Or to be paid for your writing. And you will most certainly never earn a living as a writer if you are not writing.
So, step one is writing. Not going to write. Not just having written. But writing. Present tense. Persistently, consistently and continually.
That first step is, as someone else once said—I think in a Bugs Bunny cartoon—a “doozy.”
Internal motivation did not work for me, as I suspect it is insufficient for most people. I wanted to be a writer when I was young, but it was hard to get stuff started and hard to get stuff finished.
Looking back, the common denominator to getting stuff written was putting myself in a position where there were external motivators:
• I partnered with another guy to write movies. We pushed each other to get things done that neither of us would have done on our own.
• I started a newsletter. (Actually, I’ve done this more than once, one time for a religious organization and another for a political organization.) I had to keeping writing or the newsletter would die out.
• I went to college. Term papers were required at least once every four months, so I learned to crank stuff out quickly. (Who in college ever starts their term papers before the last minute?)
• I went to graduate school. I had to write longer papers, ones that were better thought out, better researched and better written. Ultimately, I had to write a book or all my doctoral work would have been for naught.
• I became a college professor. Publish or perish. I published.
• I started this blog. Hits go up when I post, and down when I haven’t posted in a few days. Checking hits to my blog is like an addiction to video gambling—you keep feeding posts into the machine in order to see the numbers rise.
By now, though, I also write out of the joy and satisfaction in writing itself. But that came after I had established the habit of writing through other means; the intrinsic rewards of writing would never have been enough to get me started.
So, to get started you can: partner with someone, join a writing group, join a writing class, take any class that requires writing, volunteer for or start a newsletter for an organization, get a job that requires some writing, start a blog. Or find some other way to bypass your internal resistance.
The Inner Sentinel
Because the biggest resistance comes not from friends and family, it comes from within. It is your own inner critic whispering, “I hope you can deal with failure.” That’s why it is so hard when other people seem to convey that same message to you—because it reflects what you already fear on the inside.
Fear of failure. Fear of trying. Fear of bringing your inner writer to the outside where you can see how little she has to say and how poorly he says it.
Or maybe worst yet, fear of having something to say and saying it well but finding that no one wants to hear it.
The inner critic is like a sentinel who holds your inner writer prisoner to your fears.
“You’ve got to be crazy to want to be a writer,” it says, more blunt than most people.
But you are not crazy.
You may well be a writer.