Wondering when you’ll reap the fame and fortune that come with your dream of being a writer? Well, probably never. If:
1. You don’t read
At least, not the right things. You read all the books on writing and polishing and publishing, and all the books that literary critics are praising, but nothing of any real value. You don’t read books that light a fire under you, you don’t read in your genre, you don’t read non-fiction for fun and inspiration. You don’t have an Audible membership or a library card and you couldn’t name a book that has meant anything to you since you turned 20.
If you were learning to be an accountant you’d study accounting law. If you were studying to be a doctor you would read medical books. Stephen King, in On Writing calls it the Great Commandment: Reada lot, write a lot.
“Read, read, read, Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.”
2. You’re too busy to write
You’re not independently wealthy: you’ve got a job, a family, commitments, a social life, a pressing engagement with the cast of Glee! You can’t possibly squeeze any time out of your day to write.
Jon Scalzi, current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America puts it bluntly and truthfully:
So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.
You can make time to write, but something else is probably going to have to give. It might be sleep, it might be ‘watching Ellen in the afternoon’, it might be having lunch with the same people every day in the dreary work cafeteria. It might be ‘feeling bad about yourself because you’re not getting any writing done and eating ice cream instead’.
But, chances are, you can make time to write.
3. You have no original ideas
Every time you sit down to write you are paralyzed by the overwhelming feeling that everything has been said before. Well, you know what? You’re right. But it hasn’t been said by you, in this time and place, at your age, and in your circumstances. Agent Donald Maas talks a lot in The Breakout Novelist about the difference between ‘original’ and ‘unique’. You don’t have to be original, but you do have to be ‘unique’.
I once interviewed Daniel Pinkwater and he said the same thing: only you can speak in your voice, and if you write for a while you’ll discover what that voice is.
I love that what my readers need, they can only get from me. It’s riskier, but much more ego-gratifying
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview
He also said,
Ideas are everywhere. I have 60 ideas a day. So do you. So does everybody.
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview
The trick is paying attention, taking those ideas and developing them into the story only you can tell.
4. You have no qualifications for this. You don’t know what you’re doing
No writer does. Every artist is engaged in creating something unique and new. Experienced writers say this all the time: I don’t know what I’m doing until I’ve done it. Here’s a little evidence:
The only way to write is to write… Stupid b*****d job.
-Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale
Very few writers know what they are doing until they have done it.
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
You can’t completely understand what good writers do until you try it yourself…Write from the very beginning, then, and keep on writing…The next story will be better, and the next one after that still better, and eventually—
-Isaac Asimov, Gold
5. Your Writing Sucks
When you do make the time to write, it’s hard. The words do not come dripping off your pen easily; all the elements in your story don’t come out in the right order; your characters are flat and uninteresting and they speak in cliches; you want to give up.
And that is what Anne Lammot calls your ‘shitty first draft’. It has to be got through in order to get to the second draft, the third, and the polished end result. If you are too scared to suck, too scared to fail then you will never be a writer, because all writing involves putting some truly terrible prose on the page — and excising it later or, like William Faulkner, throw it out entirely and start again,
Write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
Sure, it’s scary but even the great and prolific Isaac Asimov says, of the writer’s daily task:
We sit there alone, pounding out words, with out hearts pounding in time. Each sentence brings with it the sickening sensation of not being right.
-Isaac Asimov, Gold
Can you allow your first drafts to be less than perfect?
6. You’re Too Nice
In real life it’s nice to be nice: people like you, you offend nobody and your mother is proud of you.
In literature, being nice doesn’t pay. It’s boring if nothing happens, if no-one gets upset, if no-one is threatened, insulted, shamed, murdered, even. Your writing can be your playground. Be nice in real life if you must but, in your writing,
Embrace your inner sadist.
-Donald Maass, The Breakout Novelist
I’d love to hear which of these touched a nerve with you. Let me know in the comments which part of your writing life you’re struggling with the most at the moment? Has it changed over time?
If you’re feeling inspired to write now, why not check out some of the StoryADay Writing Prompts? You might want to start with some Flash Fiction, to warm up.
37 thoughts on “6 Reasons You Will Never Be A Writer”
Well I gess I just fit the entire post –‘. (Let’s be honest). I guess I just need to read more for now and not to worry to much, on shitty writing, also I need to be mean, I mean I know I can be mean but I’m afraid it will just scare others away … you know what ? It is actually a pitiful excuse for being too nice ;). Anyway great post , exactly what I needed in my long deep depression :). Thank you !
I agree. It’s all about time management, I believe.
Too busy to write. That describes me. I’m so busy with the promotion of my new release that I haven’t written in…about 2 months…need to get on the writing bandwagon and now. Thank you for making me aware of this.
It’s a danger. But starting a new project should protect you from burnout on the ‘new release’ too!
Off late I have been thinking that yes i could write (given that yes i have written a lot, some times brilliant but in patches).. these six points have some how encouraged me cause.. now i feel where i need to really gear up and go ahead with my writing
Great to hear. Thanks for posting.
#5: I would also add that sometimes when you have the feeling that your writing sucks, you should put it aside and come back to it a few weeks later. You will then rediscover your text and sometimes you’ll see that it was actually great!
Yes! Yes! And usually the actual “suckage” is inversely proportional to your first impression! The bits you thought were great will now make you cringe, but other pieces will shine!
I love that Russell T Davies book! And Lamott’s!
Glad May is almost here too. (I could just keep using exclamation points because I’m excited!!) 🙂 Of course, come close to the end of May I’ll probably be glad it is almost over.
To the bone, thank you.
I emailed these quotes to myself:
You don’t have to be original, but you do have to be ‘unique’ ~Donald Maas
We sit there alone, pounding out words, with out hearts pounding in time. Each sentence brings with it the sickening sensation of not being right. ~Isaac Asimov, Gold
I cringe when I send a manuscript to an editor. I think to myself that they will write me a polite letter back saying that they don’t really want to use the work they hired me to write. (never happened) and I want to crumble when I hit send to submit an article (for pay) to an editor. I’ve been rejected and I’ve been paid and I still think I’m not good enough. When does t his end?
The quote that got me writing my first book (and so far most important work of the heart) was by Joel Saltzman (his book helped me a lot–If You Can Talk You Can Write) was when he said something like you know you have to write when it hurts more NOT to write than it does to write.
It’s good to know we’re not alone and it’s good to have a supportive push. A friend posted this post on Facebook, I, in turn, emailed it out to others. Glad I found you!
All six of these apply to me, especially the “fear of failure” part of number 5. I haven’t written even a first draft of anything since high school, and I’m 22. So it’s been four years. I also can’t remember the last work of fiction I read just for fun. Realistically, is there still hope at all? I mean, my brain isn’t spongy anymore.
Number 6 hits it for me! I hate hurting my characters. I read excellent literature and I just wonder how they put themselves through that torture of writing such horrifically painful things!
Number six on the list definitely rang true with me. I am generally a nice person in real life, but my writing has evoked strong emotions from friends and family. I guess that’s better than no emotion at all.
I know what you mean.
I’m starting to see this as a great reason to become part of the wider writing community: I can’t be worried about what my friends will think. Feedback from people who only know me as a writer leaves me free to go where my writing leads!
I agree with everything you posted! I make the time to write, read, and get rid of that inner critic that says, “What makes you qualified to write? Why are you so special?” and so on and so forth.
An inspirational post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
#5 has it all in a nut shell. I don’t allow myself to write anything but perfection, and the vast majority of the time, that means that I simply don’t allow myself to write. I get so disheartened when I read the paragraph I just put down, and it’s not the ‘voice of a generation’. I simply don’t let myself get past the shitty first draft stage, because I can’t bear to let myself write a shitty first draft. Damn you perfectionism!
I know, it’s hard to let it go. So that’s your project for this month: write some really bad stuff, and let it go.
In fact, go to creativecopychallenge now and write something quick and dirty, or come back here on Wednesday for the Write On Wednesday warm ups.
My first 17 chapters were very nice. There was little conflict and the characters worked out their issues reasonably. It sucked. Then I learned about inciting incidents and the need for conflict. That’s when the fun began. One character in particular is so rude I cringe when I reread her scenes. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Embrace your inner sadist indeed!
“…so rude I cringe when I reread her scenes”?
I KNOW people like that. Why not write them?
OK, you’re my new role model 😉
I like number 6. I totally love it!
Arturo, this a new realization for me, as I try to work on longer-form works.
And looking back, the stories that got the most compliments last year were the ones where I started writing when I was in a foul mood 😉
I loved this entire post, but I have to say what hit me hardest was the quote from Anne Lamott.
“Very few writers know what they are doing until they have done it.” I love it! Sometimes I get so caught up in being in control and being good that I forget to just write and let the art create itself.
Thanks for the great post!
Isn’t that a reassuring comment: the more so because you know — if you’ve ever tried to write anything — that it’s true!
YvF, Go on, put those words in the mouth of one of your characters today. Without the smiley face!
Christy, I’m delighted you found this on a day when you needed. Keep at it. No-one else can tell your stories, and the world needs them! 😉
#6 You’re too nice – this is clearly my problem. So I’m done with that. What are you looking at, you jerk!
See I’m too nice. Otherwise I wouldn’t be compelled to put in the smiley face.
I teared up reading this and I’m not afraid to admit it. Okay, I worry a little I’ll sound stupid. But I’m not deleting the comment. 3,4,5 and 6 all hit all of my excuses/worries. I needed this post badly today. My motivation and confidence are at a low point. BUT I’m not giving up! Christy (Thanks!!)
Couldn’t agree more, Dina. (Though it’s not always easy!)
Wow, this was great. I agree with all of it. My issue was time…and yes, I had to give up a few things in order to make time for it because it’s important to me…
Good for you, Yves. It’s hard to explain to the ‘normal’ people in your life, but when they see how much happier you are, they start to get it, don’t you find?
The post rings so true, I have eased off writing to read more. I had forgotten how much pleasure it is just to read just for pleasure!
When I gave up English Lit at University — in favour of history — after my second year, I ran to the university bookstore and bought the latest Booker Prize winner and several Penguin Classics. Devoured them 🙂
Terrific post. You hit the nails on the head. I hear so many people say they don’t have the time. It’s not about having the time. It’s about making the time — if you really — and, I mean, really — want to be a writer.
With the exception to number 1, this sounds like my inner beast trying squash me down. Because of my association slash participation with review site my friends and I created (book-addicts.com), I can’t NOT read!
– as a funny point of reference to your accountant analogy, that’s actually my day job. I never went to school for it, though I worked from the bottom up to get where I am now.
Number 2 is my arch nemesis. But you know what they say about finding someone successful who has it just like you or worse to follow. For me, that’s Monica Burns. Like me, she has a day job that takes up her whole day. Like me, she suffers from sleep apnea (a crutch I used to use as an excuse for not waking uo earlier to fit writing time). UNlike me, she has kids and the whole kit and kaboodle that goes with it on top of her own medical issues. Yet she overcomes all the hurdles and still manages to crank out some of the best romances I’ve ever read.
I’m a slacker compared to her. So, she’s essentially my writng idol.
It’s been an adjustment, but I have been making great headway. Just this morning I got up at 4 and got a LOT done before work. 🙂
Oh, it’s good to have an idol — as long as it doesn’t get too depressing!
Have you tried tracking your time and seeing where you might fit in some more without losing sleep?
Did you get a copy of my Time To Write workshop? It has a time tracking tool in it. Let me know if you didn’t and I’ll set you up.
Excellent post and very, very true. All of it.
Learned the hard way, of course 😉