Being a Writer is Easy, Right?

We’ve all been told, “You can do anything, if you try.”

The hard part is trying. It is easy to say, “I have an idea for a book.” It’s just as easy to say, “I have an idea for a movie,” or, “I want to open a restaurant,” or, “I’m going to fly to the moon.”

Given those frames of reference, the writer comes in as the easiest of these. Writing a novel requires less formatting than a movie script, and if we’re going full movie, a whole lot less work entirely. Opening a restaurant requires training, not just in fine cuisine but in business management. Flying to the moon is becoming more and more in our reach every day.

So, being a writer must be easy, right?

Many people try. They sit, in a room, with their computer, burning candles and chanting, waiting for inspiration to hit. Or, they pace frantically in that same room, trying to dredge up the Ultimate First Sentence that will hook their reader in three seconds. They curse and wail and pull their hair. They turn on music, trying to pick out the ‘soundtrack’ for their unwritten novel.

Then they quit, without ever touching the keyboard.

What’s impressive to me is that they got that far. Everyone has a novel, or a play, or a movie, somewhere in their head, some half-remembered dream embellished with pithy moments, that they trot out at parties when the subject comes up. Everyone has a story.

Stories are demanding creatures. They demand time, and energy, and money, and if they can, they’ll take your every waking minute. You’d have to be insane to write a novel.

Writers are insane. They’ll be the first ones to admit it.

Neil Gaiman wrote an excellent, wry, witty response to what was probably his millionth fan asking for the billionth time, how do you become a writer. I’ll link it here:

The fact that Mr. Gaiman wrote this tells me how many times he’s tried to answer this question in its myriad guises. It appears that even he has his limits. Finally, he resigned and elegantly flung his hands towards the sky and flailed them in the grand tradition of Kermit the Frog.

There is no formula for becoming a writer, because we all become writers differently. A monarch caterpillar doesn’t sit down on a leaf next to his monarch caterpillar buddy for a munch and a discussion about the best strategy for molting into a cocoon or what the most desirable time of day is to start. You can learn English, you can take courses in English literature to find out why other books succeeded, but you can’t escape a story once it has its hooks in you.

You apply ass to chair and put one word in front of the other until it’s done.

Then the real work begins.

I’m always excited when I hear someone say they want to become a writer. I’m always supportive, because writers are amazing creatures who can sit for hours in front of a computer and generate beauty, thoughtfulness, horror, irony, whimsy, and wisdom. I also never criticize someone who doesn’t follow through with that novel. It’s possible that it’s the inspiration for a song, or a poem, or a painting, or a short film, or a beautiful costume, or maybe it just makes them happier knowing that they have a story.

Creativity is a demanding beast, and writers spend a lot of time with that beast. Just like every other artistic output, the final piece makes it all look so easy, but it’s a trick. And just like the best magicians, a good writer won’t reveal all their secrets. It’s up to you to develop your own.