Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Writing 101: What It's Like

People want to know what it's like to be a wordsmith by trade. My answer? It's a war. And if you want to be a writer, you'd better be prepared to be a soldier. 

Behind Enemy Lines

"Oh, really? That sounds interesting!"

This is invariably the response I get when I tell people that I'm a writer. I can tell you, with no humility whatsoever, that it is not. There is nothing at all interesting about me sitting in front of a screen for up to 12 hours at a time. I am told I often make faces, and I'm completely incapable of hearing anyone who speaks to me while I'm in the middle of typing something. So basically it's me pulling faces, grunting, ignoring people. Interested yet? 

The truth is, you have to be able to tune out the world if you're a writer. You have to literally be capable of writing in the eye of a hurricane, if that's what it takes (and no I am not literally advocating that you should write while in a hurricane; please get to an evacuation area and follow all Red Cross instructions). Here's the bad news: tuning out the world no matter what is the easiest thing I'm going to ask you to do.

When you are a professional writer, you're not going to get a day off. You have to work holidays, late nights, early mornings and even when you feel sick. About two weeks ago I had to write a blog post and two articles flat on my back using a tablet, because I literally could not sit up. But I had to do it, so I did. I've taken throw up breaks while writing, and then gone right back to what I was doing before this disruption. 

For most people, being a professional writer means working very hard and very long hours for very little money. When they say it's a labor of love, they're not joking. But there will be some days when you hate writing, and words, and all language that has ever existed. You'll wish our entire society was based on pictographs and hand signals instead. And that's why you have to be a warrior. That's why you have to fight.

When you're a writer, your biggest enemy is always yourself. You have to fight fatigue, you have to fight to gain focus, you have to fight your own bad attitude and you have to fight your mind to stop making you think of the fifty thousand things you'd rather be doing. And you have to constantly fight the self-doubt, and the worry, and that gnawing fear that you're really fooling yourself and you're actually a hack. 

That's what it's like to be a writer. And if you still want to do it and you don't care what I tell you about how bad it gets, then you were meant to be one.

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