Monday, June 22, 2020

Ingredients for a Writing Life

Goumbik via Pixabay
Every once in a while, I like to share one of my favorite posts. This one, posted in April 2017, remains not only one of my favorites, but every bit as true three years later. 

Being a writer is a wonderful way to spend a life. But, like every other job, it has its challenges, and there are those who are better suited to the writing life than others. Being a writer requires...

Perseverance. Writing is part relay race, part marathon. Most writers have day jobs and/or families, and don't get to write in day-long sessions that resemble "real" jobs, so we write in bits and pieces here and there. Those relay race bits and pieces get cobbled together into blog posts and articles and stories and novels and works of non-fiction, all of which require a certain amount of finesse and editing to morph from files on the the computer to something we'd actually let someone else read. Together, all of those relay races become the marathon that is a writing career -- a marathon that requires sustained energy and concentration, even if most of it takes place sitting down.

A thick skin. Every writer experiences rejection. Sometimes it's well-intentioned and even growth-inducing; other times, it's mean-spirited, even devastating. Over time, we develop the necessary mechanisms for coping with the sting of rejection, throwing ourselves back into the projects we love, hoping someday, someone else will love them, too. The sooner we learn to accept the growth- inducing parts and deflect the mean-spirited stuff, the better able we become to channel all of it into our work, adding depth and richness to the voice we put on the page.

The ability to imagine and defend people who are different. Most writers of fiction put at least a little of themselves into the characters they put on the page. The real challenge lies in writing the characters who aren't like us -- those who are hard where we are soft, or vice versa, those who approach where we'd retreat. Antagonists and protagonists alike need to resound with readers, which means we need to be able to defend our characters' actions, even when we disagree with them.
The capacity to be a self-starter. As a writer, I am my own boss. No one is going to come to my house (or my satellite office at Starbucks) and make me put my butt in the chair and pound out 100 or 1000 or 10,000 words. If I can't get past my own fears and procrastination and make myself write, no one is going to do it for me. If I'm too tired or too distracted or not in the mood, I need to rest or get away from distractions or get in the mood, or otherwise make a plan to get my work done. No plan, no book. It's that simple.

A community of writers. No one understands the writing life like other writers. Parents and spouses and children try. They commiserate, they support, they advise. But no one really gets it like those who are pushing past their own procrastination and fear to run that relay race/marathon alongside us. They know what it feels like when people we've developed out of thin air won't shut up or, conversely, freeze us out and leave us staring at a blank screen. They give us feedback that is growth-inducing (and, if they don't, they don't last long in the community) and trust us with the ephemeral bliss of just-right words on the page. They celebrate with us when we get the words right, and lift us up when we think we can't pour ourselves onto the page anymore.

The writing life is a pretty good life, and the traits it requires can all be cultivated. Fortunately, writers get a lifetime to do just that.

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