How to Be a Real Writer

[Edit: I felt inspired to write a followup post.]

So this thing happened on Tumblr, and everyone lost their shit. Which is the way of Tumblr, I guess. But it started with someone asking Brian Michael Bendis, “what advice do you have for someone that has had writers block for the past 6 or 7 years?”

this will sound harsh but you’re probably not a writer.

writers write every day. it’s ok, not everyone is.

but if you consider yourself one, get off your ass and get back to work!! write about why you haven’t been writing . anything. just write.

And people lost their shit in both directions. You can see some of it here. There’s some pretty dickish things said on both sides. I had several moments of “Where the hell did that even come from?” Because, seriously. Seriously. Don’t just dump out whatever issues you have on people with no reason.

On the one hand, I generally try to avoid coming down with Big Opinions about a lot of things. I rarely feel like an expert on anything, so why should I comment? But the notion of “being a real writer” is one that grates on me. And I was encouraged to write this by a friend, so here’s my take.

First, if you want to call yourself a writer, call yourself a writer. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if you’ve never written a thing in your life. If you feel in your soul that you’re a writer, feel free to call yourself a writer. I know you weren’t waiting for my permission, but I figured I’d get that out there first in case anyone starts to doubt me later. Don’t assume I’m on your side here.

Second, Brian Michael Bendis gets paid to write for a living. If you ask Brian Michael Bendis for advice on writing, his advice will come from the point of view of someone who writes for a living. He has to write every day whether his muse shows up or not. It’s like asking a computer programmer for help getting inspired because you haven’t been able to write code for six or seven years. If you go six or seven years without writing because you haven’t felt inspired, someone who writes every day for a living is not going to agree with your definition of writing. And his advice will be, “Just sit down and write.” Was he a bit of a dick because he said the guy wasn’t a writer? A bit. But it fits into the context of “writing is something you do for a paycheck.”

Third, I see a lot of professional writers get asked the same question and give the same answer. That is the answer of someone who does it for a living. It’s especially the answer of a professional writer who gets asked questions like that a lot from people who want to be a writer but for whatever reason they aren’t writing. You can see similar responses from other professional writers. If you don’t like that answer, ask someone who better embodies the style of writer you want to be for their advice.

Fourth, everyone likes to have the market cornered on being Real Writers. I got a dose of that early on when I was starting to take workshops and classes for writing SF several years ago. You have artists who look down on working writers for being sell-outs and hacks. You have working writers who look down on artists for being flaky and irresponsible. You have everyone looking down on fanfiction writers. And that’s just fiction. This doesn’t include copywriters, technical writers, biographers, etc. And these are not exclusive circles. They are overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. But the most vocal are the ones who fall into one camp and want to shit on the other. Because the world’s National Pastime is shitting on one another.

Fifth, stop shitting on each other. Seriously.

Sixth, romanticizing writing in either direction is a sucker’s game. All it does is set up a false ideal, whether it’s “writers write because they must” or “writers must be inspired to write.”

Seventh, if you want to write you should probably write whether you’re inspired or not. Books do not just magically appear. They take time. You must sit down and write things in order for them to get written. And, here’s something magical: The more you write stuff, the more your brain is conditioned into being writerly. Which then makes it easier to feel inspired. Regardless of whether you think of yourself as a writer or not: if you’re not writing you are not writing. You have inertia working against you. So go do NaNoWriMo, or find some brainstorming exercises on the internet.

Eighth, you can’t wait your whole life for something magical to happen to you. Whether it’s inspiration to write or going back to school or anything. Do you know what you get when you wait around for something magical to happen to you? Old.

Ninth, I understand that it’s hard. I spent over a decade struggling with the existential question of  “am I still a writer if I can’t make myself write?” For some people that decade of inactivity may have been the germination of some great novel and they needed all that time to process all their life experiences into the Perfect Novel. But that wasn’t me. I had to find it within myself to sit down and write on a regular basis. Some people don’t struggle with it. Some people do. The only one that can change that is you.


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