Years ago, I read a book called The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M. Bickham, and the first thing on the list is “Don’t Make Excuses.” The entire chapter is basically just saying you have to write every day and not make excuses for why you don’t want to. The thing that sticks out to me now is, “Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.” When I read this the first time, it apparently didn’t speak to me, because I didn’t actually stop making excuses until years later.
Somewhere around the time I read that book, I went to a book signing for Cassandra Clare with some friends. This was during my undergrad years, and someone in the audience asked her what advice she had for aspiring authors. She told us to write every day. Even if it was just 100 words. To at least write something. And I did for a while that summer, but then the habit fell away again.
Then my mom gave me The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I think that was finally the book that made me look at what I was doing. The author talks about being a professional when it comes to writing. He says: “The amateur plays part time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.”
He goes on a few pages later to say, “All of us are pros in one area: our jobs” and gives a list of ways in which that’s true, including: showing up every day, showing up no matter what, staying on the job even if we don’t want to, and a number of others.
This is the big difference between how I viewed writing up until two years ago and today. I always said I wanted to be an author, but I never put in the time and effort needed to get anywhere near that goal. I did basically everything except write. I drew and painted and played videogames for hours on end. I took up crocheting for something like a year, and while all of that was fun, it wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to be. It wasn’t helping me finish Rowan’s story.
It wasn’t until the end of 2018, when I decided if I wanted to be serious and actually get somewhere, that things started to change. I told myself that during 2019, I would sit down to write every day, whether I wanted to or not, even if I was tired or not in the mood or just over it that day. I made a goal of writing at least 500 words daily. And, of course, I didn’t write every day, because life happens. My mom was sick and then passed away. My sister got married. I was doing my Master’s program and working, which kept me busy. But I tried so hard to sit down every day and put at least something to paper.
And by the end of the year, I’d managed to finish the third rewrite of Rowan’s story. And sure, it was a mess, and I rewrote two-thirds of it last year again, but it helped me form a habit. There are still days where I don’t want to write. There are days when I’m tired and just want to take a nap. There are days where my motivation is in the toilet, but I sit down at my dining table or on the couch and put words down anyway, because writing anything is better than nothing. And if it’s terrible, I can always fix it in revision.
That seems to be the advice most authors give when asked that question. In his Masterclass, Neil Gaiman basically says the same. He keeps it simple, “You should write.” And “Finish things.” But the thing is, that’s the best advice there is. Just write. If you’re really serious about writing, sit down and put words on the page, whether that’s in a notebook or in a Word document or on a typewriter. You can always fix it later, but there’s nothing to fix if you don’t get anything written.
What I wrote this week
Revised a short story.
What I’m reading right now
Bloodsworn by Scott Reintgen
The Last Revision by Sandra Scofield