I am afraid to write.
November 21, 2013 4:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm a writer who doesn't really write anything...help?

I've been a writer for all of my life. I truly believe that "writer" isn't just an occupation, it's something that comes naturally, and if you have that ability then you never really lose it. But the trouble is, I don't really write. Unless you count the business writing I do for work, which I don't.

About two years ago I got really into writing poetry, but I got out of the habit after a fellow writer critiqued something I wrote. It was a constructive critique, but after I realized that I wasn't as perfect as I thought, I stopped. It's like my muse packed up shop and split. It's been difficult to start letting things flow again. However, one thing I don't miss is having an idea for a poem, and struggling within myself on how to accurately transfer my feelings to the page. I think that's another reason I stopped poetry.

I write poems here and there now, but for the longest time I have been itching to write a memoir style book, a la Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm only 28 but I already have a lot I could put into a book. But I freeze up even at the thought of putting anything on paper. The other day I was sitting in the middle of a crowded bus station in Ghana, watching a gypsy child beg for money. That could have been priceless inspiration for a short story, if only I'd had the cajones to finish the damn thing.

And then there's all of the messy bits of my life...the skeletons in my closet that people would look down on me for should they come out. Those skeletons are a part of my story though...I can't tell it without them.

So I don't really know what to do, between my fear of sucking and my fear of being judged (perhaps rightly so, but still). I would like to be a writer who actually writes. I've heard advice like "feel the fear and do it anyway," but even if I do it, what about the disappointment of writing something that isn't as good as you wanted it to be?
posted by Cybria to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am not a good writer.
I think a lot of problems with writing come from it being more of a performance than a meditation. If the motivation is to impress others with your experience or wit, it is more burdensome. If you want to organize thoughts or memories or feelings, you can focus on the writing itself and not the audience.
Try ten days of write and burn. Spend thirty minutes putting your best effort onto paper and then burn the paper. At the end of ten days you will likely have felt some real regret about the loss. Then you are ready to start writing again.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:27 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's something that comes naturally

If you think about it like this then you're forever doomed to not write, just in case you write something bad and then look at it and realise you mustn't be a writer after all.

Imagine that writing is a skill that you learn BY doing it badly and learning from your mistakes. Just like anyone else who learns woodwork or basketball or ballet or how to walk. All those good writers you admire? They started off by doing it badly. All those videos on youtube of skateboarders grinding rails? For every three second clip of an awesome rail grind there are three days you don't see where they slammed on their face repeatedly. All the awesome skateboarders are the ones who got up and did it again. There are no awesome skateboarders who slammed their face, decided this reflected badly on their natural skateboarding ability, and then went home and watched TV.

The only path to good writing is through bad writing. Get on and write some bad writing. When you have written something bad, give yourself a MASSIVE PAT ON THE BACK, because you wrote. Next day, write something else.
posted by emilyw at 4:43 AM on November 21, 2013 [31 favorites]


Nanowrimo would have been perfect for you!

In any case, you have to just write. Open up Wordpad and put some words on paper. I have issues with writing too and the only thing that seems to help is just to write, and them write some more, and don't think about it or what if this or what if that. Just get the story on some sort of paper and worry about all the other things once you've actually written something.
posted by Autumn at 4:44 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."

-- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:47 AM on November 21, 2013 [39 favorites]


Good writing is about editing. It is never the first draft. You have time to edit. An re-edit. Until it's good.
Writing starts with exactly that: writing. Start with the most obvious things that come to mind: the cliches of poor children in developing countries, young wild vagabonding westerners who have done some things they are not proud of, the magnificent sunrise over lake Volta....
It's not great, but it helps to untangle your feelings. And there you have it, a few pages that can be used as a starting point.

Consider (voice) recording your "writing" - if you have an idea for a poem or just thought of the perfect line to start a story, record it. You can type it up later. But it's saved and helps with that weird feeling about filling a blank page.

The fear of being judged is a whole different story though. Get over the idea that you have to produce work that will inspire millions of generations to come. Sure, some work will suck. You don't have to publish that. Some might be exceptional. Just start.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:49 AM on November 21, 2013


I know this isn't entirely what you want to hear but I think its true and I'm hoping that it will relieve some of the pressure that you're feeling to start getting some writing done... You have to be doing this for the right reasons.

Most of us really aren't the incredibly talented and unrecognized literary geniuses that we wish we were... and to go through life believing that we are being denied/aren't living up to that destiny can make you really unhappy.

I'm from Los Angeles, and one special archetypal character in LA is the struggling screen-writer. There are so many of them. They each believe that what they have to offer is really special, that their ideas are amazing, and if only they had their chance. It can be really sad.

Many of them are smart, deep, talented and hilarious...But the slush pile is HUGE, and the chances are so slim... maybe the timing was wrong.............. and some of them just aren't as creatively amazing as they think they are.

And there are few things in the world more pathetic than someone who feels bitterness about being unrecognized by the world for their talents.... because the fact of the matter is that most of us won't be.

My saddest friends are the ones who are depressed that they can't get anything published and they resent the job that they do have- and that's no way to live.

I think a lot of people, when they're young, are enamored with the idea of how awesome it would be if they were a super special genius person... But I think that at some point in your late 20's you have to start letting that stuff go and just do what makes you happy. Write if you want to write, paint if you want to paint- but do it for you... then you won't care what anyone else thinks....

Which brings me to my answer for your question: Don't worry about being judged and just write- do it for you. Chances for any big success are slim- so the writing has to be for you and to make you happy.

PS- I've heard that it takes writing 1 million words to become a mature writer (that number could be wrong- but its something like that). You will never get there if you don't start!
posted by misspony at 4:50 AM on November 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I was just coming in to say what EmilyW (and, on preview, everyone else) did. Writing is one of the few skills where we allow ourselves to say we have the skill, even if we don't practice it, and that leads to endless trouble and disappointment.

I have gargoyles. That's what I call them, anyway--these nebulous beings who sit somewhere high on the wall behind me, looking at what I write, and telling me I am doing it wrong; I am saying things that should not be said; I should write something safer; I should take the day off; I should give up. They are made up of parents and friends and writers I like and people I'm scared of, and they are just always there, judging, judging. I have no idea how to get rid of them, but I know that they took this dream I've had of writing and made it into a nightmare of decades-long failure.

Everything is clumsy; everything is wrong. Little kids on bikes are not more wobbly than my writing. They get their balance and race while I'm still struggling to suggest a personality using nothing but words and rhythm. But that's because they have been practicing every time they go outside, whereas I have to take a month off due to self-pity, failure, and gargoyle-based criticism.

You have to keep coming back to it. No one is a natural writer. The skills atrophy. So you have to sit down and write about that begging child and those skeletons, and you have to write more than just the images that come to you. And it will be awful, and the things you are proudest of today, your hardest work, will look like crayon scribblings tomorrow. The fear will not go away. Or maybe it will; it is not under your control, and it is separate from the issue of your practice, or at any rate it must be, or you won't write.

All of which is to say: Practice through fear. Never a day without a line.
posted by mittens at 4:54 AM on November 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


Routine. Sidestep this perfectionist terror that gets in the way of actually writing by establishing a pattern where writing is just what you do by default, not a decision you need to agonize over every day. Make a recurring appointment to be by yourself with whatever tools you need, at a particular time and place. Put your butt in the proverbial chair and write something. Do it again the next time, and the next. Don't decide to do it today and then decide again tomorrow. Make the act of picking up the pen/typewriter/laptop as automatic as your morning coffee.
posted by jon1270 at 4:56 AM on November 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Book recommendations: "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. Both focused not so much on the techniques of writing as how to approach it mentally.

For your entire career as a writer, you're going to have to deal with the disappointment of writing something that wasn't as good as you wanted to be (or that you personally feel satisfied with but doesn't do as well as you wanted with editors or critics or sales.) You're going to deal with being judged.

I wrote six or seven novels before I sold one. And after I sold one, I wrote another one, and that's when I got hit with a series of disappointments and hard spots that was way harder than I ever expected. So writing a lot of unpublished novels was excellent practice for understanding writing as a form of practice for my own benefit regardless of whether anyone else ever read it or lot, sort of like jogging or meditation. You don't get rid of the anxiety and perfectionism, but the more you write through the feelings, the better you get at writing through the feelings.
posted by Jeanne at 5:08 AM on November 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


"I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning."
(variously attributed to William Faulkner, Somerset Maugham, and some other guys)

One of the biggest things separating aspiring writers from serious writers is that serious writers know that writing is often a pain in the ass. There are frustrating parts, tedious parts, things they just can't make work, and distractions around every turn. Writing can feel like a state of flow at the best of times, but the rest of the time you have to keep bringing yourself back to it.

Practice, every day. Write things even if you know they suck. Let them suck. Release some of that suck into the world, if you're so inclined.

When I was younger, I was frequently praised for my writing ability, and I just assumed I would be a novelist - it seemed like the very thing I was put on earth to do. I think you can see where this is going: I am not a writer. That praise misled me to believe that writing would be natural and easy for me, and that everything I put on paper would turn to gold. I never learned how to buckle down when it got tough, or to accept criticism gracefully. As a result, I didn't get in the habit of writing regularly, and I was afraid to show my work to others. And my writing muscle atrophied.

To be a serious writer, you must accept that writing is hard. And you must do it anyway.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:10 AM on November 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I remember this quote from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And there's this piece called "Be Friends With Failure", which I coincidentally just saw yesterday from the website "Doodle Alley" by Stephen McCranie. It's a fantastic framing of some of the same advice.

Your belief that it's something that comes naturally is both true and untrue. Being praised as a child for your verbal skills is one thing. But you have to keep working at it in order for it to being meaningful as an adult. And it's going to suck. It's not going to be what you want it to be. Not yet. The only way to get to where you want is to be like Rocky Balboa and start the writing version of the training montage. Keep writing. It will get better.
posted by inturnaround at 5:18 AM on November 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


I don't have much to add to the good advice here, but yes, set process goals not outcome goals, and modest goals not intimidating ones: "300 words a day" or "an hour four times a week", not "a bestselling book-length memoir a la Elizabeth Gilbert."

Remember above all that you don't have to "feel like" doing something, including writing, in order to do it, and you don't need to somehow replace your feeling of hostility or terror about the act with a feeling of excitement. You can just feel that feeling and meanwhile open the laptop and type.

Here's a PDF online of the "Shitty First Drafts" chapter from Bird by Bird, but you really should buy the book.

It's important to "write every day", "never a day without a line", but it's more important not to be totally floored or thrown off the wagon in the event that you break that rule. I tend to think the muscle you're really building is the "getting back on the wagon" muscle.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:36 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


What everyone else said.

what about the disappointment of writing something that isn't as good as you wanted it to be?

Eventually, you'll realize (and, ideally, accept) that nothing you write is ever as good as you want it to be. But, with practice, you can get much closer to matching intention and execution. Still, I think that gap persists, no matter your skill.
posted by xenization at 5:54 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


As Sugar (Cheryl Strayed) would say, write like a motherfucker.
posted by k8lin at 6:31 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


On his reddit AMA this week, Neil Gaiman said something that is of a piece with what everybody else is saying above, about not worrying about perfection in your writing. But the language he used was this: when you have made a story as good as you can make it, and you send it out into the world, the feeling is one of abandoning a child. That's the feeling. It's never good enough, and you won't know whether you have given it everything it needs to survive or not.

But it's time to kick it from the nest anyway to make room for the next story, and the next.

How you know it's time to kick it from the nest? I once heard a playwright speak about his process, and in response to a question about revisions he said something like this:

"I've got classmates from my MFA who have only written the one play. They put it away for six months and then they look at it and they see all of these things that need changed. So they make a bunch of revisions and put it away and then in six months they see all these new things that need changed. And they've only written the one play in fifteen years, they just keep writing it and writing it.

"You're a different person after six months. You should have a different play in you by then. For the same time and effort they could have written eight plays, of which let's say two would be terrible, five mediocre, and one good. Instead they just have the one play which is never going to be perfect because nothing is perfect, because every time you look at it you are a different person looking for different things."
posted by gauche at 6:42 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, this just came over the transom and might help: Why, in Writing, Process Trumps Product, And Why You Shouldn’t Worry About The Quality of Your Work
posted by gauche at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2013


Realise, as I did, after a decade of twisting myself in knots about how I sucked and couldn't find motivation and why is everything so hard, that it's actually easier to write than not to write. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is true - you will burn endless amounts of energy and spirit and personal strength chastising yourself and wondering why you can't write than you will actually writing.

My wife says I'm a much easier person to live with since I started doing a thousand words a day. A lot of it is garbage, but it's words, and it can all be edited. All writing sucks when it falls out of your head. The hard work is in the editing, not the process of getting words out.

You can't edit a blank page.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:25 AM on November 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


You've gotten some really good advice here.

In college, my best friend and I had an epic debate: what makes a writer. Like you, he thought writing came naturally to some--a gift, like a jewel buried inside him.

I believed that a writer was one who writes.

My friend is a gifted speaker and writer. He always will be. But since college, he's written very, very little. Part of it is, I think, that he's still waiting for the muse to carry him away--to float on the wings of his natural gift, so to speak.

But there's another part of it. I think he's also afraid to fail, and fail spectacularly. Because if his words aren't perfect, then he receives confirmation that he's not actually gifted. Not actually a writer.

Meanwhile, in the eight years since college, I've written two chapbooks of poetry, completed an MFA, written six books of fiction, and by July will have seen two of those books published by a major publisher. There were some big, big failures in there: the painful MFA workshops where my writing was torn to pieces by cruel-hearted professors; the books that I believed in that didn't sell; the dozens of false starts; the difficult edits, which made me cry. But I keep going. A writer isn't a perfect ideal locked in carbonite. A writer is someone who writes. I can't tell you how many millions of words I've churned out in nearly a decade; there are too many to count.

And when you've done that--when you've written daily or nearly, for years and years and years--you come to see that natural talent doesn't count for much unless you're, like, ten. Because there are some very un-talented writers who I've seen work hard enough to be successful. People who were not, to start with, nearly as gifted as my friend. But whose writing is now better, because they exposed themselves to the risk of failure, over and over again, and kept going, and kept growing. Those are the writers. The people who risk it. The people who do. The people who write.

So, I'm sorry, and this is going to feel harsh to hear: you are not, right now, a writer. No more than you are a rock star or a bricklayer or an oil painter. Take it from someone who gets paid to write, and puts in the daily work. You have not done the hard work or taken the risks to earn that title, and it must be earned.

But you can be a writer. All you need to do is pick up the pen, or put a few words down on your keyboard. And then, when it hurts, when someone else tells you it's no good, do it again--whether because you're stubborn or because you're fool-hearted or because you want to prove them (and me) wrong. It's the easiest thing you can do, but also the hardest.

And you can do it. I truly believe you have it in you--whatever "it" is. It's not a question of ability. It's a question of wanting. Do you want it? Do it, then.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2013 [22 favorites]


There are writers to whom it "comes naturally", the ones who just spill a stream of consciousness onto the page and then move on. There are writers to whom it doesn't come at all naturally, who can spend decades revising the same manuscript. There are writers at every point on that spectrum, and none of them are doing it wrong.

There are no writers who don't write.
posted by ook at 8:08 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


First: If you don't write a lot, then most of what you write is going to be garbage when you get started. That is unavoidable. You will look at what you wrote and you will think, "Oh my God, my writing is garbage." If you don't think that, you're hopeless. In my life, I have known several people who believed they were turning out gold right away, and all of them were fucking terrible. Now, you will probably see some promise in your work. That's good. You should. If you don't, then put your work down for a while - weeks, months, whatever (I've got mine down to a couple days but it took time to get there) - and then look at it later. You should see the promise I'm talking about.

Second: Writing is only half of writing. Revision is the other half. They're both intense processes, but you can't get to the second without getting to the first. Just write. Pretty it up later. You can't edit and create at the same time. It doesn't have to be perfect out of the gate, and in fact it won't. Just write.

Third: Here is a secret. It's not really a secret, actually, but it doesn't get acknowledged out loud much, because it's a little uncomfortable. For anyone who does anything creative - writing, drawing, whatever - it will invariably start out pretty fun. There's a honeymoon phase with any project. With writing, it tends to be the creation of characters, and worldbuilding, if that's your thing. Maybe the very broad strokes of a story, and a few scenes the writer has in mind. Prep work. This is the stage at which you will find most people who are Writing A Novel, because this stage is, as I say, pretty fun. The reason everyone who's Writing a Novel stalls out here is that, beyond this stage - after you've gotten your characters in mind and you have a sense of where they start and where they finish and you've probably written a first draft of a first chapter - it becomes work. And work isn't fun. It's work.

So that's where most people stop. But I can tell you from experience that if you keep it up, it starts being...maybe not fun, necessarily, but it starts to be intensely gratifying to see how far you've come, and that propels you forward. I'm working on a graphic novel right now. I finished three chapters of it - writing, pencils, inks, letters - then decided I hated it and I started over from scratch. I am now in the middle of drawing chapter three for the second time, and it's work, but then I catch my breath and I realize that I've written, drawn, inked and lettered something like a hundred-odd pages altogether, and this is just the beginning. Prior to this, the longest single comic story I'd told was maybe fifteen pages long. It's exhilarating. You realize how much you've done, even though it became kind of a slog almost immediately, and like I say, it propels you forward. But you have to get over that hump first.

Fourth: There's always going to be a reason not to write. Something's on TV or you're tired from work and want to give yourself a lazy night or people want to go out or whatever, and suddenly you have to go to bed in an hour so it doesn't seem worth it to start, and you'll do it tomorrow, because today just sort of got away from you. Well, tomorrow's going to get away from you, too. So's the day after that. And the day after that. And suddenly, you're at a party counting down the seconds to the new year, and you think, "Huh, this year went by fast." Time will get away from you, if you let it.

There is no secret to making time to write. You just do it. You accept that your brain is going to try to stop you from creating, for whatever dumb fucking reason, and you push through. And then you push through again. And again. And again. Results will not be immediate, but you'll find that it starts to get easier as you force it to be part of your routine.

Consider this: It will take time to get to a place where you're happy with your writing. Once you're there, it will take time to finish what you start. Every day you put it off, that day in the future moves farther and farther away. Just write. Worry it about it later. Revise later. For now, just write.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:10 AM on November 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Rosanne Bane's Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance is the only thing that got me writing (semi-)steadily again, after years of being a writer who didn't write.
posted by scody at 9:00 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chuck Close is an artist, not a writer, but I always come back to this thing he said when I need some motivation:
"The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. "
posted by velebita at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am writing a memoir-style book for NaNo this year. I have to second that suggestion. Just do it during another month of the year. The demand to "just get words down on paper" helps a LOT, since you can't just sit there and go "uh....this sucks" and still get to 50k.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2013


Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing is amazing. He slowly demolishes much of the common wisdom and mysticism about writing, offering instead a practical, focussed approach to writing what you are trying to say, one sentence at a time. It's really a remarkable book and one I'll keep it close at hand for years to come.
posted by oulipian at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I struggle a lot with this problem, although with visual art instead of writing. I find the thing that keeps me going is getting obsessively interested in something. For example, it might be a puzzle I'm trying to figure out about perspective, or color, or composition. It's one of those things like when you're a kid and you take apart the toaster to see how it works. The curiosity overwhelms self-consciousness -- I just HAVE to solve the mystery. I also write in a journal while I go through these phases, and end up writing down things like, "WHAT IS IT ABOUT BLUE?!"

Sometimes I come away from these projects having made a Great Revelation, and that's exciting. Most of the time, I am still pretty mystified by whatever it was I was trying to figure out. But in either case, I haven't once thought about whether I, personally, am any good.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:15 PM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been a writer for all of my life. I truly believe that "writer" isn't just an occupation, it's something that comes naturally, and if you have that ability then you never really lose it. But the trouble is, I don't really write. Unless you count the business writing I do for work, which I don't.

There's no such thing as a 'writer' unless you're filling out your tax return. There are words. Write more words, and find someone you trust who will tell you when they're crap. Then write better words. Repeat.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:07 PM on November 21, 2013


I've been a writer for all of my life. I truly believe that "writer" isn't just an occupation, it's something that comes naturally, and if you have that ability then you never really lose it.

Respectfully, this is arrant nonsense, and you're letting it - and your romance about writing and fear of failure - ruin something that could be enjoyable for you. You haven't been a writer all your life, any more than you've been a piano player all your life.

I have enjoyed a very modest success as a writer, both professionally and artistically (much less so artistically). And something I often see in people is there are people who want to be Writers, and people who write. People who want to be Writers often have highly romantic ideas about writing, and genuinely believe that being a writer makes them part of an intellectual and creative elite. People who want to be Writers often put great stock in being part of this elite, and they are often very nervous about falling outside it, or being judged not a Writer. Being a Writer, is a big part of their identity. I think everyone who writes has a little bit of this inside them. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

People who write, on the other hand. View writing has a craft. And like any kind of craft - cooking, playing an instrument, building, etc- it's something that requires practice. Also, there are many different ways of doing it, and sometimes, even if you're quite practiced, you're gonna do something shit.

For people who write, writing is something that they do, along a spectrum of many other activities. They might do it with a view to gettting a job, or external recognition, or getting published or just to let off steam. But they know why they're doing it, and they ensure the writing that they're doing reflects that. They are pleased when they pass milestones, but don't rely on external validation and are generally skeptical of mystical overtones to the process or label. For them, "Writer" is another description, just like "Nurse", or "Carpenter" etc. It doesn't denote anything but the fact the person spends a lot of time writing.

Personally, for me, I don't really consider anyone a writer unless they are doing it as a job. For example I was a writer once, I am no longer - though my job calls for lots of writing. Because it is a job description, I do not attach any mystique or status to it - believe me, there are plenty of published writers that are absolute horseshit, and plenty of people who will never be published (and are not even trying) that are great. It's not a meritocracy. Writing as a job is a skill and good writing is not one that is necessary to being successful.

Also, people who write tend to read, a lot (and often very broadly). People who want to be Writers are often not as well-read, I've found. They read very narrowly; or sporadically; they are more interested in their own words than anyone else's. When they visualise success it comes in the form of external validation; writing a bestseller, winning an award, etc. Not getting published, writing a book like X's, getting kudos from a particular reviewer.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that you are not a Writer, and that it doesn't matter very much. If go Ten Pin Bowling once a week, do you consider yourself a Bowler? Does a lack of being able to call yourself such stop you from Bowling? I certainly hope not.

If you stop investing so much in this idea of yourself as Writer, and that everything you put to paper must be inspired genius, you may find the urge to write arises more frequently, and inspiration is not such a fickle mistress.

Additionally, read the kind of writing you want to like, lots of it. Write shameless pastiche of the kind of authors and story you like to read - it will still be different, I promise you, and if the worst that can be said is "so-and-so writes a lot like X great author" that's a pretty awesome thing, really.

Re: the memoir thing. Why do you want to write a memoir? If you're worried about stuff, just do a few short vignettes. But be honest with yourself about why you want to write. A lot of people want to write as therapy - or be a Writer to compensate for something they feel is missing in their world. There's nothing wrong with that, but typically those kind of works are not successful in terms of publication.
posted by smoke at 7:57 PM on November 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Tons of good-advice, and spot-on.

I second reading Bird by Bird or Writing Down the Bones. (I also like Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend From Far Away and Wild Mind.)

The best writing advice I ever read was "write to save the life of someone like you." What, if you read it, would make you feel less alone in the world? Write that.

And read a lot, and read diversely to learn from all kinds of writers. Subscribe to literary magazines or read them at the library. Befriend other writers.
posted by mermaidcafe at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I write software.

And it sort of comes... naturally.

By which I mean I have a fairly fixed amount of interest, and if I spend that by staying engaged at work, I certainly don't want to pursue it as a hobby at home.

If you're burning out all of your interest at work *and* hoping that doing a similar thing at home "will just come naturally", one of those two things is setting you up to fail.

Either don't write things for pay, so you've got interest left at the end of the day, or, much more likely, grind for awhile at night and force yourself to write, no matter how bad or uninterested it seems, until you get better at it and can do *that* as the job. Just don't grind for so long that you hate it, and screw up the job you already have?
posted by talldean at 5:15 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Talent of The Room by Michael Ventura.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2013


O.K., I'm coming a little late to this thread, but I want to strongly recommend The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It addresses exactly the issues you are concerned about. If you do the exercises she outlines, it can change your entire life, not just your creative life. Good luck!
posted by purplesludge at 5:30 AM on November 26, 2013


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