My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Privilege of Daily Writing (And the Ableism of Prescribing It) Part 1

The most common problem among beginning writers is actually not stilted or purple prose, it's not lack of vocabulary or grammatical knowledge, it's not that they haven't found their voice and borrow from their favorite Victorian authors even if they're writing gritty cyberpunk technoerotica, and it certainly isn't that they need to do nothing more than "a polish" on that vampire magic school love triangle manuscript they wrote in high school.

It's that they're too good to take advice.

It's breathtaking, really, how many would-be writers are special snowflakes to whom the basic advice given over and over and over (by virtually everyone they want to write like) simply doesn't apply. Not in this case. Not to them.

And I want you to understand, when I say "them," I mean us. That was me thinking that a hundred pages of high school jokes was going to get a big six (it was six back then) deal if someone would just fix my spelling errors. That was me thinking that I was never going to have to cut a whole scene out or remove a character. That was me thinking that other writers might have to put in five or ten years of rejection, but I had the shit wired. Even as recently as a few years ago, I was wondering why my second drafts weren't being received with more enthusiasm.

The world of writing (and really many arts) is filled with such unique flakes of snow and folks who know better. Tell them they are going to need to write three to seven drafts if they want to be published, and they're sure they can do it in one and some proofreading because they thought a lot about their story before writing it down. Tell them they're going to have to kill their darlings, and they know that in this case they've got a winner from beginning to end with not one superfluous character or scene. Tell them to use simple words and they will give you ten reasons they need "blandishment" instead of "flattery." Tell them to cut 10% and they will cling to every word like they've written Ulysses.

And tell them to write every day, and they will find a hundred reasons they don't want to and fifty excuses for why they can't. Most of these excuses are spectacularly transparent prioritization failures.

If said writers were calmly clacking away for their own artistic fulfillment, happy simply in the joy of the writing they so vociferous love, if they never wanted to be famous or paid or even perhaps even read except possibly by a handful of family and friends, this would be no issue. Imagine them blissed out as they do that thing for which they express their florid undying devotion. A tear rolls down their face. "I just love writing so much...." they say.

Millions of artists are unknown, uncelebrated, and uncompensated. They paint, compose, play instruments, sing in the shower, dance in their living rooms, carve wood into faces, fold paper into cranes, decorate wreaths, take pottery classes, snap pictures, doodle, and even write in ways that fulfill them but aren't intended to be consumed by a wider audience. Even those who display or perform their art often do so for their communities or their loved ones. They act season after season in theaters where the ticket price might go towards the strike party. They sing for town concerts for little more glory than the mayor being honestly impressed. They write fiction online for forums where their best days are a couple of e-mails telling them their words are really appreciated.

But for some reason, many many, many writers–millions upon millions of writers–also sit around and wonder how to "make it." They may not know what "it" is but the fact that they are making anything less than "it" is unfulfilling to them. They ask Neil Gaiman how they can make it. They corner Stephen King at signings and ask how he blew life into his burgeoning career. They deluge Danielle Steele with impassioned pleas for how they too can emulate her success.  They even write in to third fourth rate bloggers who they have found are paying half their bills through writing these days and try to find out what the secret is. Because they want to discover something–anything–other than hard, consistent work that might be the secret to being a writer.

Over and over and over and over again these writers are asked these questions (I make less than half my income from writing and have made non-trivial money from writing for less than two years, and yet I have probably been asked this question no less than fifty times.)

These folks want the career trajectories, the accolades, the readers, the money, maybe even the fame, and yet somehow they are desperate that it come from some secret trick of "talent" or inspiration that goes beyond hard and consistent work. And yet as layers of writers are peeled away, taking away the casual writers, the dilettantes, those who've published a single book, those who make a pittance or have a few hundred readers.... As you peel away trust fund babies and folks with rich spouses who get to be "working writers" because they don't need to have a day job, and the obscure names you've never heard of from the corners of Amazon....  As you solicit the advice of only the most successful, the most published, the most read, and the most admired, their advice on process (if not craft) becomes more and more homogenous and predictable: read incessantly, write constantly.

And the reason I'm telling you all this, is because I want you to understand the context in which most advice from writers gets solicited and the context in which it gets delivered.

Because there IS another kind of context. It's rare (though not that rare), but it exists. And it is important that one context's sort of preemptive answers put out as advice to the teeming millions are not miscommunicated into the other context's "answer field."  Once in a while someone says they can't write every day and it isn't about their raiding guild or their after-dinner drinks or their inability to skip their beauty sleep to get up a half an hour early. Once in a while they say "No, I actually can't write every day."

And they all mean it.

And that is when it's very important to make sure we're not meeting concerns with platitudes.

On to Part 2...


  1. This is a great post, Chris! I was recently asked to edit something for a person on FB who thought that because she "had this great idea" and threw some words on paper that somehow made her a writer. It made me realize that people don’t take writing as a serious art form. We can all brush paint on canvas, but it doesn’t mean we are artists. We can all hit keys on a piano, but it doesn’t mean we are musicians. We can all put words on paper and voila! We are writers. And that’s fucked up, until you think about it and realize that most of these “writers” once they discover how much work it is, will move on to something else. Nature weeds out the imposters.

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