06 Jun

Should You Give Up Writing?

Banner - penEver felt like you want to tell stories, but can’t? That you’re sitting down, starting something great, all those characters dancing in your mind, but two weeks and fourteen failed starts later, you have nothing to show for it?

Maybe you like the idea of writing, but you’re having trouble doing the work. Maybe you feel, or have heard, that writing is work, and it should feel like work, and you’re not liking that feeling.

Maybe it’s making you doubt whether you are a writer at all, or should be one, or should give it all up and try out for that competitive TV-watching team you’ve heard about.

No, you shouldn’t. Because you, and all those more-or-less well-meaning people on the internet, are looking at writing the wrong way.

You should look at writing as craft. Because it is. Writing is just as much a craft as carpentry. So we’ll use that as an example:

Imagine that you’ve got an idea for a house you’d like to live in. A big, beautiful house, with chestnut beams going across that high point beneath the ceiling where it looks like a triangle.

You don’t know what that triangle’s name is (it’s called having a vaulted ceiling with exposed joists BTW) because you haven’t studied carpentry. You’ve seen plenty of houses, and you tried building a shelf one, and you like to fiddle with a saw and cut things to equal lengths, but that’s about it.

You don’t know carpentry – you don’t know how to build a house – but you can imagine what your dream house should look like. That’s a key point. You have seen plenty of houses, i.e. consumed plenty of stories, so you can recognize the feeling of reading great characters, intense plots, awe-inspiring descriptions.

You just don’t know how to create them. Yet.

That’s where you start to stumble. You lose focus. You procrastinate. You decide that this story isn’t for you, but that other story, the one that’s pecking on your brain stem, demanding to be let out into your imagination to play, will be the One.

Note the capital O. We’ve been told to look for the One story, the Muse Inspired Masterpiece. MIM FTW!

Bullshit.

There’s no such thing as a golden idea. You won’t magically learn carpentry just because you’ve imagined your dream house. You won’t magically learn how to write because you’ve felt the thrill of a spark (a spark is what your idea is before it’s fleshed out enough to be a complete idea – it’s a great feeling.)

You need practice. You need to learn craft.

Here’s the thing: you can’t be taught how to write. You need to learn it, and that means practice.

It means that you need to start writing, no matter how imperfect that feels. It means that you need to finish your stories (that’s a lot easier when you write short stories or flash fiction, BTW,) or you’ll never learn anything but writing beginnings (there are writers who do that, and still sell, but they’re few and mostly piss their fans off with their endings.)

You need to write past the point where you feel uncomfortable.

Because uncomfortable is the writing crafts equivalent to getting winded when you’re running. It’s just a sign that you’re stretching to the limit of your abilities. You’re practicing new things.

And that’s the way to learn. By trying and failing. You won’t magically learn, no matter how many writing books you read, how much internet advice you skim. You can’t learn how to build houses without building houses. You can’t learn how to write without writing.

And that’s all there is to it.

It’s not a matter of being distracted, or having ADHD, or dyslexia, or no time, or a thousand other excuses that wannabe writers use to convince themselves that they can’t write, or can’t be writers, or need to wait for that one, glorious idea that will make writing effortless.

Doesn’t exist. The only thing that will make writing effortless is effort.

Ever seen a figure skater? Or a competitive diving contest? Looks effortless, right?

How many times haven’t that skater fallen? Or done that exact same pirouette, over and over and over again? Would they have even been an ice dancer if they had waited for the Muse Inspired Masterpiece jump?

No, they’d never learned it, that’s what.

Same thing with writing. You need to learn it to make it effortless.

And all the people saying that no, you’re not cut out for writing, try some other form of creativity, well, they’re full of it.

Sure, you might like some other expression of creativity. It might even be easier to learn. But there won’t be a MIM there either – it’s all about practice, practice, practice.

And that’s the way that you find your calling, the thing that fulfills you. Not by magically knowing what you like, but by trying, and getting better, and learning! (If you don’t believe me, read any of the modern research on motivation, especially career motivation, and skill sets.)

But on the other hand, if writing only feels like work, if you never feel the pleasant spark, then maybe you are doing something wrong. Try a different format, or a different length, or a different way (plotting/pantsing/plantsing/flying to the moon.) Find what works for you, and writing won’t feel like work.

So that’s it for you. Yes, writing is inspiring, sometime. Yes, writing is work, sometime. Yes, there’s effort. You need to try it. Then, and only then, will you be able to say whether writing is the thing for you. Because it’s only at that point that you’ve given it the shot it requires.

And that’s the way it should be.

Luck and Persistence!

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