The most important thing about writing

January 12, 2009 in On Writing by pacejmiller

I thought this was a good way to get serious about the writing on a blog about writing.  I contemplated this question for quite a while, and for me, the only conclusion is this:

The most important thing about writing is writing.  That is, actually getting down, sitting down in front of a notebook, a computer, a piece of paper, or whatever, and write.  And to do it often.  Writing is a craft that takes time to develop and improve.  The further and longer you are away from it, the longer it takes you to get back into it.  That’s why I’m doing this blog – to sustain a writing frame of mind (and also to remind myself the things I need to do as a writer).

Easier said than done

Sounds like stating the obvious, but it really is hard to find time to write.  It is more difficult for some than others, especially those with busy work lives, social lives.  When you are struggling to make ends meet, writing becomes less important in your life.

When I was working as a lawyer, I did stacks of reading and writing every day.  Often deep into the night, sometimes on weekends.  I got so sick of reading and writing, even when it was not related to work.  And so when I did have some spare time, I just wanted to relax, or do other things.  I made excuses for myself.  I told myself I would start tomorrow, or next week, or next month.  Turns out in most cases, I would never start writing in the first place.  Or I would, and then I’d get distracted by something else, and it would all be forgotten.starving-writer

Just do it

One of the things I learnt in the creative writing course I did is that in order to be a writer, all you need to do is to just write.  The term aspiring writer shouldn’t really apply.  If you write, you are a writer (I have to admit though that I still struggle to see myself as a ‘writer’ unless I’m making a living from it).

I’ve read a lot about writing as a craft, and the general consensus is that you shouldn’t do it unless you’re willing to give it your all.  Successful writers tell us that writing is a long, hard road, with lots of frustration and suffering.  Apparently most writers that start out to write a novel never complete it.  Of those that complete it, only a tiny handful are able to acquire an agent (going the slush-pile route is even harder), and out of that handful, only a few are able to find a publisher and get published.  And out of that miniscule bunch, only a couple actually make any money.

I don’t mean you should give up your day job to write.  However, you do need to make sacrifices, make time to write; and when you do write, block out everything else and just focus on the writing.  Again, easier said than done – plenty of distractions surround us all the time.  You just need to have the will power to go after what you want.

Then why do it?

Here’s a quote from Anne Lamott, author of the writing book Bird by Bird, who sums it up pretty well:

“I encourage anyone, who feels at all compelled to write to do so.  I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be.  But writing is.  Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.  The thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual writing – turns out to be the best part.  It’s like discovering that whole you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.  The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Aren’t such quotes inspirational?  (mental note to add more inspirational quotes).

I guess everyone has their own reason for writing.  For me, it’s because I want to.  I find writing to be such a release, and it feels good to express your emotions in words.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s because writing is where I want to direct my life.  It’s something I can see myself doing as a job.  And I have had this idea for a fantasy novel for years and years.  I’ve played out the several hundred versions of the story in my head, like a movie.  I thought it would be fantastic if I could just convert that into words.  It’s not going to be easy, but I’ve made up my mind.  I hope I can do it.