Whenever I’m asked what I’m most passionate about, I answer, automatically, writing. I feel a certain amount of pride in being able to give a confident answer to this question that often stumps a lot of my friends who are still searching for their “thing.” I am a writer. Writing is my passion. It sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Of course, this easy answer doesn’t tell the whole story, and it’s the inevitable follow-up question that makes this clear. Here it comes:
So, what do you love about writing?
Love? Who said anything about love? I hate writing with a passion. That’s where all the passion comes from—hate.
I realize that not all writers feel this way. Some writers live in a bubble of serenity in which words flow from their fingertips to the page with ease, ideas are plentiful, inspiration is constant, and self-doubt? Such a thing doesn’t even exist. But the rest of us, the non-bubble dwellers, who live in the real world of mortgages and stress and uncooked dinners, the act of writing can sometimes, not all the time, okay maybe about half the time, be a little unpleasant, and other times, once in a while, okay maybe half the time, be downright painful.
Let’s face it, writing can be hard. To begin with, unless you’ve already hit it big, you’re doing it on top of working a full-time job, which means any time you devote to it is cutting into your time with your husband, your kids, your friends, your fun. You have limited time to actually write, and when you do find the time, you need to make it happen on the spot because there’s no time to dilly dally around waiting for inspiration. Now it’s summertime and your friends are all off at the beach or the park or Mexico, and you’re stuck inside, writing. On top of which you think you’ve lost track of the plot, your characters aren’t fully-formed, you’re pretty sure you aren’t any good at this, the book you self-published last year isn’t selling, like at ALL, and nobody, I mean nobody you know actually understands WHY you’re spending so much time on this “book” when you should be training for that marathon and making sure your kids eat balanced meals.
First, let me just say: I know. I’m here for you. Let’s avoid writing together by going out for coffee to discuss it.
Or, even better, for all the miserable writers out there, here are some tips from me to you to help you make your life as a writer just a little, not completely, but maybe about 10% less miserable:
You’re Overworked and Underpaid – Tell Everyone!
It can be hard for non-writers to understand the agonies of writing, and more specifically the amount of time it takes up in your life. Friends may become irritated when you have to turn down their dinner invites and Friday night get-togethers because you have to write. Imagining your buddies having fun together while you’re holed up in the basement hunched over your computer isn’t much fun for you either.
To combat the idea that you’re blowing everyone off and wasting your time, start telling yourself and everyone else that you have two full-time jobs. If you have kids, you can even boost that to three. Three Jobs! That’ll shut them up.
If you’re serious about writing, never call it a hobby or a side-project or a pastime. Writing is work, hard work. Sure, you’re doing this work voluntarily, but that doesn’t make it less difficult or deserving of respect than your salaried job. As a writer, your free time is precious and limited, and anyone who gives you grief about how much you have or how you spend it should go out and get a few extra jobs first. See how they like it!
Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper, Mister
It’s really difficult to stay positive about your writing when you’re always comparing yourself to other writers. Sure, it’s important to read great novels and aspire to that kind of greatness yourself, but only if it doesn’t turn you into a weepy puddle of self-doubt. Thinking you’re not good enough is a common problem for writers and can be crippling.
To keep your confidence up, remind yourself that the book you’re reading is a finished product. You don’t know how many awful drafts there were before it was published. Maybe this book you think is so spectacular went through 20 drafts and a few severe edits before it became the tome you know so well. It isn’t fair to compare the second draft of your novel to a polished book, so don’t even go there.
That goes for writing speed as well. Many of the more successful self-published authors are releasing four or five books a year, and here you are slaving away at your manuscript for a third year. Nothing good will come of comparing yourself to these speedy authors, so why do it? There are plenty of famous authors who wrote more slowly (J. R. R. Tolkien, for one, ever heard of him?). The important thing is to write the best book you can, no matter how long it takes.
Be Trendy Only If You Really Love The Trend
When you hear reports that authors are really raking it in writing about vampires or apocalypses or naughty sex, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon. There’s nothing wrong with branching out—I’d even say it’s a good thing—but trying to force yourself to write a book about time travel for teens when your niche is really historical romance can be disastrous. Some writers are good at genre hopping and can write equally well in a variety of styles, but it’s not for everyone, and writing in a genre you don’t enjoy can suck the soul out of you in a jiffy. If you really want to be a happy writer, ignore the trends altogether and write what you want to write. You never know, maybe your idea will end up spurring a trend of its own!
Give Yourself a Break
Write every day. You’ve heard this rule, we all have. Given the famous tendency of authors to procrastinate, I understand why the rule is useful. You’re never going to get the book done if you keep marathon-watching Mad Men instead. But the rule can also be confining and has lead me to feel that I was failing as a writer because I couldn’t manage to get my butt in that desk chair two times this week, or because I took the day off to take my nephews to the amusement park, or because I wanted to go shopping.
Life doesn’t stop because you have a book to write, and I don’t believe you should cut yourself off from all human contact just to get your book written. You’ve heard of work/life balance? Well, I believe in life/write balance. You may not be able to hang out with your friends and family every night of the week if you want to finish your book, but you don’t have to stay home every night either. You can pick and choose.
I’m not saying don’t try to write every day, because you absolutely should. I’ve found it much more difficult to get back into my book when I haven’t engaged with it for several days in a row. What I’m saying is beating yourself up when you have to skip a day is a waste of time, and giving up everything else in your life to write your book, though it might get the book finished pretty quick, isn’t the best formula for a happiness. Your writing should be a priority in your life, but so should your life. If you stop living to write your book what in the world will you have to write about, anyway?
So, as you can see, when I say I hate writing, I don’t really mean it. It’s not writing that I hate, but rather all the challenges that come along with being a writer today, challenges which can ruin the act of writing for us, if we let them. It’s hard enough coming up with a great story idea and making the written product actually resemble that idea, and be coherent, and brilliant, and marketable, and exactly what you want it to be. Doing it while also missing out on all the fun things in life, being resented by your friends, feeling like everyone is writing better and faster, writing a story you don’t even care about, and feeling like crap because you aren’t writing enough—well, I’d say that’s practically impossible.
Being a writer in the real world is hard, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Next time you want to punch writing in the face, maybe go get an ice cream cone instead. And remember, if you really are a writer, there is no cure. You can give it up and become a circus clown and believe that’s the end of it, but writing will always come back to haunt you. It’s like an ant infestation that way. So, buck up, soldier, you’ve only got about 50 or 60 more years of this to go.
Now, didn’t that make you feel better?