We all have excuses for why we don’t write. Work, kids, Netflix marathons, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve written before about how difficult I find writing for fun when I write for a living. And yet, for one glorious, stressful month a year, we put all our excuses decide, meet up with friends and strangers in coffee shops and on twitter, and try to bash out 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month.
“Being a writer” has a low bar to entry. It’s not like “being an engineer”—you don’t have to work as a writer or be trained as a writer or ever publish a word of your writing. You just have to write. Being a writer as a career obviously takes a little more effort. I am a writer by nature and by trade—for the last two years I’ve spent somewhere between two and ten hours a day, five days a week, writing. It’s not what people would consider “glamorous” writing, creating product copy for ecommerce websites; it’s not being a novelist or a features writer or any of my “dream” writing jobs, but it’s nice to be able to say that I pay my bills as a writer.
Plenty of writers have no interest or ability to write as a profession, and simply write in their free time as a hobby. Sometimes I envy that. Too often, after a full day of writing for work the last thing I want to do in my free time is open up Scrivener and start on my own projects. Even on weekends when I haven’t been writing all day, I feel as though I want a day off from this thing that I supposedly love and feel endlessly passionate about. This is where I admit that I haven’t finished so much as a short story in nearly a year. Heck, I’ve barely even started so much as a short story in that time. And you, dear readers, have seen how infrequently I manage to even update this blog.
Sometimes the self-doubt creeps in and I think that perhaps I’m not a writer. Maybe I’m a non-writer who just happens to write for a living. I know this is the kind of self-doubt that nearly every writer struggles with; twitter is full of jokes from amateur and professional writers about the trials and tribulations of putting words on the page.
The recipe is simple: to be a writer, you must write. You must write when you’re tired, or sad, or after you’ve written all day for work. You must especially write when you feel like every word that spews out is pure shit. Thriller writer Harlan Coben said, “You can alway fix bad pages. You can’t fix no pages.”
Stephen King said that he writes 2000 words each and every day. I know from several years’ experience participating in NaNoWriMo, where the daily average goal is 1667, words that writing 2000 words can take an hour or twelve, depending on the day. Obviously, that’s not feasible for everyone, whether they write for their job or not. But what I must learn to better remind myself is that ending a day having written a single word on a personal project leaves me with one more word than I started with, and sometimes that’s enough.
I won’t be participating in NaNo* this year—for most of November I’ll be visiting Ireland and toward the end Steve and I will be moving across the world to New Zealand where I’ll almost certainly be too preoccupied searching for housing and a job. I can’t commit to writing 2000 words a day, or maybe even 200. But I’m a writer, and so I must write.
* For the uninitiated: November is National Novel Writing Month, where thousands around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Published novels that began as NaNo projects include The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.