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On Being A Writer


I can't remember who said it but a writer once pointed out that nobody will ever miss something you didn't write.

People don't walk around wishing they can find the genius they are unaware of, or the book that hasn't been written yet.

It's the harshest reality a writer must face. That nobody really cares whether you finish your novel or magnum opus - or whether you even work on it at all. A book is nothing until it's published - and even then, given current trends, it's unlikely to set the world on fire or sell more than a few copies.

Writers must find their own reasons to write - and be self motivated enough to continue without anything but selfish reasons to finish what they start. As Dorothea Brande said in "Becoming a Writer", writers create their own emergencies. They have to, because nobody else really gives a damn.

It's funny. I was rereading a little of Stephen King's "On Writing" this week and I noticed something I'd missed previously.

He said he used to believe that writing was a craft and that it could be taught, a skill that, with enough training and guidance, anyone could master. Note, he used to think that.

But later in his career, after he'd written around twenty novels, he'd changed his mind. He realized that the urge to write consistently must be something you're born with.

Think about it - writing for no good reason (except personal compulsion) is an urge that is so specific - even a little bizarre - that, without it being somehow hard-wired into a writer's DNA, most people, no matter how keen to learn, simply wouldn't bother.

It's not like it's always easy after all.

It's often said that if you find writing easy, you're probably not doing it right. I know from experience that those writers who tell me they found writing their novel a breeze, usually need some serious editing!

Don't get me wrong. I do think that writing the first draft of a story or a book should be fairly effortless or if not, an exhilarating experience for a writer. That's usually how your best work feels. When you're 'in the zone' and being productive and inspired, you're a writer, just like any other Dan Brown, Emily Bronte or Tolstoy.

But that's not all there is. 

There's editing too. And having something important to say. And having the kind of mind that can hold an entire book in your mind - and to be able to get it all down on paper. And, of course, the toughest call: being able to arrange your life to find the time and inclination to write every day.

Not everyone thinks writing is glamorous. Even many professional writers I know have no great regard for the process, only an overwhelming conviction that, in order to create something of value and importance, you have no choice but to do it. 

You and only you.

Of course, 'value' and 'importance' are relative terms. That's the point. Only Tolstoy thought is was important to write War and Peace. It had no value to his wife, most likely, and none of us would have missed it - or him - if he'd become an alcoholic and never got around to writing more than a few hundred words.

So the next time you're tempted to write a book, think it through.

Is it important you get it all down?

And are you willing to spend 80% of the process on making it perfect?

Because, like Mr King, I used to think that to be able to write half a page of scribbled lines gave you the right to call yourself a writer.

But now, after I've written a million or so words, I'm beginning to think that being a writer is more involved than I used to believe.

It's somehow innate in a writer's makeup.

Perhaps practice is all it takes - consistent action and dedication to the art. 

But more likely you need to discover the writer within - that guy inside who was never going to be satisfied until you gave him free rein to take over your life. 

But if he's not there, except as a vague yearning, maybe the best thing is to quit while you're ahead!

Being a full time writer is still one of the hardest ways to live. Ask any writer. Even when you're successful, the motivation to write, stay focused, inspired and clear for long periods can be tough.

Sure, it's rewarding - and often fun. 

You know it's good when you finish something great and you like yourself more for having done it.

But be clear on this: commitment to writing books is not for the faint hearted. 

Take one step at a time - but be sure you have good sturdy shoes before you start.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
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