You know one of my favorite things about being an author? Besides starting conversations with extremely sarcastic questions? People who think they need to stop others from trying to reach their dreams.
Learning that most of the world not only lacks imagination, but seems to take it as an insult when someone dares to take a step down a path they think is wrong was one of the most confusing moments in my life. The saying ‘misery loves company’ is easiest to see when you are trying to step beyond what others have decided is possible. They reach out and try to keep you back with them, all in the name of kindness and they don’t even need to know you to start spouting off warnings about how wrong your choice is. I think my favorites are the ones that assume I write because I want the easy job. Um, yeah, quite the opposite, really.
I have been called childish. Selfish. Insane. I have had to justify what I do even though I work two jobs and do my writing on my own time and the person demanding I see their version of reason has not read a single sentence I’ve written. And, well, you could say that I’m getting sick and tired of having to juggle both bills and people looking down their nose at me while self righteously explaining to me how I’ll never get anywhere. More than that, I’m sick and tired of hearing people say it to other, much younger, much less resilient writers. That last bit is selfish; I’m a reader first.
So let’s get this clear. If you are a writer, you are going to have to face this. People who know you exactly enough to call you Mr, Ms, Mrs whateveryournameis, are going to hear the words ‘I’m a writer’ and suddenly become your career counselor, parent, and financial advisor. No matter what you do, this is going to happen and it is your absolute duty to look them dead in the eye and tell them to mind their own business… but you don’t have to be that polite. AND if you happen to be a writer who says these things to other writers, you have my permission to go slap yourself.
I’m not really angry. This is not a rant about the evil old world trying to stop me – like that’s gonna happen. In fact, these sorts of things make you stronger and it is my suggestion to get used to this behavior because you can’t change other people. But you can change how you react to them. You do not have to be polite. I fully encourage you to get used to looking at these people and telling them to pay a little more attention to their own life and less to yours. You may also like to develop the habit of not caring about what other people think, at least not those whose only answer to a creative career is to proclaim ‘you will never make it as a writer/artist/musician/actor. What they really mean is they convinced themselves that they would never make it, gave up on their dreams, and moved on. That is their story, not yours. Remember that.
I figured, before we start the next story tomorrow, that it is one of those times when I tell the truth. Mostly, to other writers, especially the new ones. This isn’t the easy path. It isn’t even the middle path. Hell, this isn’t even the hard path. You know that difficulty level on video games which basically equals ‘You are going to die every two steps and have to restart the level at least four times before beating it’? There you go, that is what a writing career is. Some of us are dialed in from the first second, writing and selling our work and living like queens or kings off of it. Then there are the rest of us. Some quit. Some run away and talk about being writers without actually writing and insist that nobody could even possibly understand them or that the world doesn’t deserve them. And some of us hold down two jobs, have months (or years) where we are barely paying the bills, and ask ourselves every day whether we ought to just quit and knowing we can’t.
I refuse to lie to you. Just like playing the video game, it is going to have stages that feel like sheer madness. You will start to wonder if you aren’t good enough to play this difficulty. There will be moments when the word impossible crosses your mind. If you are like me, you’ll get one too many bills in the mail and go hide in a corner to have a little cry once in a while. That’s okay. There is no shame is crying as long as you don’t quit. I swear, you might one day hear that bit about falling down seven times, standing up eight, and consider learning the art of hacking just so you can erase those stupid motivational memes from all of internet existence. I had a whole afternoon where I became the meme killer and ran around smacking motivational quotes set against inspirational backgrounds with a code hammer. Don’t you judge me.
Yes. You will take a lot of wrong steps. You will curse yourself and tell yourself you are being stupid. You will hear those people that tell you why you ought to give up and wonder if they are right. But, if you want this enough, you will keep going anyway. You will keep fighting. Because this isn’t about your talent. If you have talent, great, but you still need to go to school and hone that. You still need to get better at using it. If you don’t have talent, well… who says you don’t just need to find that thing which sets you on fire? My so called talent seems to fluctuate based on whether or not I want to write AND, fun fact, I spend a lot of time questioning if it even exists. Even when someone is telling me some story I wrote is perfect (and always wonder if I’m, like, the first thing they’ve ever read). Talent, in fact, is usually gauged on what is popular at the time. And we all know how much that changes.
What this life is really about is your ability to persist. Everyone talks about Stephen King’s success. They never seem to remember how hard he fought for it. They don’t remember how little he had, how much he struggled, or how much he sacrificed to have that first, big break. Overnight is never overnight. It is just what the rest of the world sees and remembers. Ask Micheal Jordon how many hours he spent practicing putting one little ball through one little hoop. Ask any artist how many hours they spent drawing eyes or trees or happy little mountains before they created something that was all them. It takes time to even know what you are doing. It takes faith to believe it will take you somewhere. So be strong and have belief and just keep trying. There is no such thing as easy in this business. Be glad for that.
I always tell people, be it in video games, at work, or when they want to write. Easy is not as great as it sounds. Never take the easy option. We live in a world that loves to balance things. Easy on one side usually equals painfully hard on the other. Which side would you like your troubles to come on? The beginning? Or the end.
Keep writing. Keep trying. Will you face mountains? Damn straight you will. But take a good look at people to whom life (writing or otherwise) has been gentle. They seem pretty happy, I mean, they never have to worry about anything. But what about when things go wrong? What talent do they have for dealing with challenges? None. They never learned what to do when things went wrong. When a writer who has never had writer’s block hits it for the first time, it can stop them for months, even years (personal experience). What about when they are already successful and expected to produce, silly mental block be damned? The world is never kind when you have already given them reason to expect great things and you let them down. When you deal with a creative life, things go wrong. Writer’s block, your plot fell apart, no original ideas, self sabotage, oh yeah. You’re going to face a lot of hurdles. The more resilient you are, the better chance you have of surviving. And resiliency is learned by falling down. A lot.
So that story didn’t work out or you didn’t win that contest. I’m going to give you some gamer logic here, brace yourself. Get the hell up. Get better. Do it again. And again. AND AGAIN. I am still struggling. Maybe I’ll make it. Maybe I won’t. That no longer matters; writing makes me happy and I’m going to keep doing it. I may not be some fabulously famous author, but so what? I’m not here to offer you money. I’m here to give you a kick in the pants. That’s easier when I don’t have to climb down from a castle to do it.
There is no ‘correct path’ in writing. You gotta do what is right for you. Learning what that is takes time. Sometimes it takes years. There is this whole list of things you need to be a writer and very few of them are physical, all of them are learned, and the writing is only part of it. Being a writer means being strong enough to keep going when every single person around you says you should quit. Believing in yourself is the best armor you can put on around here. But, sometimes, that just doesn’t feel like enough.
This is where I tell you to go find another writer. Writers need to support each other. We don’t, always. There are some that think they need to put other writers down and stop them. Yeah, if you do that, feel free to slap yourself again. And stop it. Don’t try to stop another writer just because you haven’t gotten where you want to be or, worse, actually believe no-one else could be good enough or might get in your way. Especially never say those words ‘but you’ll never make it as a writer’. Just don’t do it. There are enough nay sayers in this world. We don’t need more. Give each other honest reviews – if someone needs to work on their sentence structure or their plot, tell them – but save the snark. In a world where new, better, exciting, and fast are the key words, writers are often shuffled to the back and forgotten about until they, through their own persistence, get that ‘overnight’ success. The fun fact here is that, when one writer gets really popular, more books in general sell. Everyone reads Harry Potter and starts desperately looking for something similar because, big surprise, decent books aren’t written in a month, but most readers can rip through them in less than that. So, ya know. The last thing any one of us needs to be doing is trying to thin the herd.
Finally, I want you to walk away with this. There is this wall between us and the rest of the world. Nobody ever thinks they know someone who can write a whole novel because it is damned hard. When very few people know your name, it is easy to tell you that you are crazy. But just imagine, for a moment, someone walking up to Stephen King without knowing who he is and telling him that he’ll never make it as a writer. Imagine the good laugh he’d get out of that now. Do you really think nobody ever said that to him when he was unknown? Usually people who hadn’t even bothered to read anything he’d written, I imagine.
Yes, this does feel a bit nuts, sometimes. Like, how often do I need to run into this wall before I stop hurting myself or it falls over? But the thing is, hit enough times in the right spot, the wall will crack. It isn’t nearly as sturdy as it looks. Keep going. As my favorite of all Disney quotes (I know, bite me) says, ‘Keep Moving Forward’. If you are having a moment of desperation and need a little pat on the back or just someone sympathetic, feel free to message me.