I’ve been reading blogs by writers at various stages of the publication process. They’re anxious because 1) they’re looking for agents, 2) they have an agent but haven’t sold a book yet, 3) they’ve sold a book but the initial sales aren’t what they hoped, 4) their first book(s) sold well but now their agent or editor says they need a big book to keep their career going. And I’m asking myself where’s the happy stop on the writer train?
The Happy Stop on the Writer Train
And you know what the answer is? It’s while we’re writing. Not every moment of writing, mind you. There are painful parts of writing too, when what’s on the page fails to live up to the fabulous idea in your head. But there are so many good moments: the rush of that great idea, the character who’s coming alive on the page, the moment when you look up from writing and realize you’ve totally lost track of time because you’ve been living in this other world, the satisfaction of looking back at a finished book and loving it.
So that tells me where to put my time and energy. You can’t neglect the parts leading to publication because otherwise no one else is going to see those loveable characters or that wonderful story. But you can’t count on them to make you happy. You have to be happy in the writing. If you’re not, you should quit because the writer train isn’t pulling into some magic station with puppies and rainbows and unicorns any time soon.
Make Time to Write
And that brings me to the central piece of advice and maybe admonition I’d give to aspiring writers. You have to write. Not just talk about it, do it.
It’s clearly true that some people’s lives leave them with no time or creative energy. When I was teaching four sections of freshman composition while caring for a small child and writing articles for publication, I could barely write a grocery list. If you’re in that situation, you may have to wait until next year. Life is long. Its seasons come and go.
But often, people have more time than they think they do. It’s just broken up into small chunks. The trick is to find ways to use those chunks.
I once heard science fiction writer Corey Doctorow describe his writing practice. He wrote first thing each morning for about half an hour. His goal was to produce one, double-spaced page. He sometimes wrote more, but never less. Then he went off to his full-time day job. He pointed out that if he did that for a year, at the end of that time, he’d have the draft of a full novel.
A regular, more or less daily time for writing also seems to stoke creativity. A study by Bob Boice published in Written Communication compared binge writers who wrote in big swaths of time when they were inspired with those who wrote for a short time each day. The daily writers not only wrote more, they also had more editorial acceptance and more creative ideas.
Sometimes what keeps us from writing isn’t lack of time; it’s lack of courage to see if we have what it takes.