I’ve made a good living as a freelance non-fiction writer, but my heart has always thumped hardest when I contemplate a fiction writer’s life. However, I didn’t write fiction for years because of the following:
Five reasons I used as excuses
- My day job was writing. I didn’t want to “relax” in the evening by writing some more.
- I needed to brush up on skills. I hadn’t taken writing classes since college.
- None of my friends were fiction writers, so I couldn’t get honest, reliable feedback on my work.
- I didn’t have the time.
- I wasn’t very good.
So…which one of these is your excuse?
Pick it now, and have a good rationale handy as to why it’s stopping you, because I’m going to eviscerate each and every one of them…or at least tell you how I changed my life so I couldn’t make those excuses anymore.
1. I quit my day job
Granted, that’s a drastic measure, but the job had become something I was ready to leave.
I found other work that had some writing, but not ONLY writing. And I accepted the fact that writing isn’t always fun or easy or “relaxing.” It’s work. It’s writing. Suck it up, and just do it.
2. I took a writing class
I stopped whining and started looking for opportunities to learn the craft.
Through word of mouth, I found out about a one-day writing workshop held by the friend of a friend. The 3-hour class was held in the writer’s home, and the group was small, only four of us. We all wrote in class and read our work, and when she heard my piece, she said, “Well, you don’t need me to tell you that you’re a good writer.” (Actually, I did. Best $35 ever spent. It gave me confidence.)
Then I went to a local writer’s center and started taking classes. At first I was just reading about writing, then I did a little writing, then I took a writing critique class. They were gradual baby steps, but I took ‘em.
3. I met peers
Through those classes I got to know other writing students whose work I respected. Some of them have become friends, and because I know they’re good writers, I trust them as editors/readers.
4. I gave up my TV habit
By not automatically turning on the TV at night, I made the time. Watching television was wasted time anyway and wasn’t necessarily relaxing because I’d get caught up in something and stay up later than I’d intended to.
5. I gave myself credit and held myself accountable
I found I wasn’t as bad than I thought, and I also realized that I wasn’t going to get any better just sitting on my ass and complaining about why I wasn’t writing.
Have you ever heard that ‘million words’ saying? That you won’t be a writer unless you’ve written a million words?
It can seem discouraging, but there’s a great deal of truth to it. Sure, it takes time and effort and focus to hone your craft. But it also takes time to change your thinking from “I can’t” to “I can.”
Write a million words, and you’ll have proved to yourself that you actually can write.
What happened afterwards
When I did these five things, I began writing. Not steadily, not every day, but I began.
That first 3-hour workshop — I took that two years ago.
Only now can I say that I write regularly. It’s taken me a full 24 months to gain the courage to do so. I sit down at least three times a week and write for several hours at stretch. And yes, I’m getting better at fiction. Simply because I’m doing it.
Burn your writing
Writing is to being a writer as cooking is to being a chef.
No chef ever got any better by reading cookbooks and then calling it a day. Chopping, sauteing, stirring and sweating are essential to learning. And ruining a few dishes is good practice for getting it right the next time.
Same thing with writing. You have to do it, not just dream about it or make excuses. You have to be willing to produce writing that stinks to learn how to produce writing that’s readable. No writer ever got any better just reading books, or even reading books on writing. At some point, you put the fingers to the keyboard or the pen to paper, and you push off.
I’ve cooked a lot of meals that ended up in the garbage. They were inedible. I didn’t sit at the table, crying over them, hoping that magic would make my burnt meals better. I threw them out and started over.
Understand and accept that your writing is no different. It won’t come out right the first time, the tenth time, probably not even the hundredth time.
But if you write regularly, for yourself and for your own improvement, by then you won’t care.
You’ll have established a writing habit, and despite your worst efforts, you’ll get better.
As for your best efforts? You may not believe that such moving, arresting work actually came from you, but it did. Why? Because you transformed yourself into a writer. One word at a time.