Note: If you missed the sneak peek of my new novel, Dark the Night Descending, that I published on Friday, you can find it here.
I’m about to say some things that you might not agree with, but I’m going to say them anyway. I think writers are, in general, kind of mean to each other. I think we’re one of the only groups of people that bully and bruise each other into the ridiculous notion that if you’re not doing one thing and one thing only around the clock, you’ll never be a ‘real’ member of a clan that has such a huge and varied number of standards that we’re hardly even a cohesive unit anyway.
I am taking issue, specifically, with the number one piece of writing ‘advice’ available to the novices among us, which is to sit down, shut up, turn off your world, and bang out words on the page until your fingers bleed, then keep writing. If you’re not writing, you’re doing something wrong. If you’re not writing right now, you’ll never be a real writer at any point in the future. Feeling horrible? The solution is to write. Feeling uninspired? Too bad. Write anyway. Feeling like a complete and total failure because there are other parts of your life that sometimes overwhelm your drive and focus? You miserable little twit. We always knew you couldn’t hack it. Prepare to consign yourself to your pathetic twilight existence of obscurity and shame.
Maybe I’m exaggerating…but by how much? I was curious to see if this is a real thing or just an impression I’m getting from people who are, in fact, more dedicated than I am. So I turned to the All-Father of the Internet, Google, for some not-very-objective evidence, and this is what I found. When I searched for “writing inspiration”, the first images were peppered with things like this:
But then I wondered if other creative disciplines do the same thing to each other, and I don’t think they do to quite the same extent. For example, when I searched for “artist inspiration”, I got a whole lot of beautiful art, like this:
And when I searched for “musician inspiration”, I got a slew of articles about musicians who had overcome physical, mental, or economic handicaps, or essays about letting music flow through you and carry you away to a land of creative bliss. An article from the Guardian that asked for advice from creative professionals (none of which were fiction or non-fiction authors), produced interesting gems like these…
…and they didn’t say a single damn thing about chaining myself to a chair, setting a timer on my favorite block of plastic explosives, and begging myself to finish 500 words so I could cut the blue wire just in time and save my life.
I don’t argue with the fact that many writers struggle with the idea of putting words on the page. I don’t argue with the fact that if you don’t put words on the page, you’re not going to get very far as a writer. But I take exception to this really harsh, disappointingly smug, and condescending way we treat aspiring writers who have a momentary lapse in concentration, or just don’t have the experience necessary to find that perfect little mental trick that gets the words flowing without fail.
Where did this bullying come from, and why is it necessary? It’s discouraging, it’s mean, and it belittles us all as a profession, a hobby, a source of joy, and a means of emotional communication. Writing takes dedication, practice, commitment, and self-assurance. It takes an intimate knowledge of one’s inner self, including what is motivating and what is not – and that’s almost never exactly the same thing as your neighbor. After all, if we all wrote in coffee shops 24 hours a day, there would be never be any chairs left, right?
Some people thrive on the boot-camp method, and I would never tell them that that’s a bad thing. It can be necessary sometimes if you need an electric jolt to get you out of a funk. But not everyone does. And too much electrocution will fry your brain instead of jump-starting it. There’s no need to create this baseline of fear, exclusion, demanding expectation, and dread around having a different routine, or feeling most energized after coming back from a break, or simply having conflicting obligations that can wear you out to the point where sitting your butt in the chair seems like a torture instead of a vacation.
It doesn’t make you weak or un-creative or lazy if you can’t always squeeze blood from a stone. It doesn’t mean you’ll never finish your novel. It doesn’t mean you’ll never make it big. It makes you human. Humans don’t all do the same things, think the same ways, or draw strength from the same sources. We should be celebrating this spectrum of inspiration instead of trying to cram it all into a single, depressing, draconian mold.
So next time someone sends you a cute little graphic demanding your undivided attention, or posts on Twitter about how you should stop reading Twitter and get to work on your manuscript, you can feel free to ignore it. Or don’t ignore it. After all, I’m not here to tell you what to do.
Is this a trend you’ve noticed, too? Do you think it helps you, or is it damaging to your flow?