Being a writer is a lot like being a mythical creature, if mythical creatures had constant bouts of anxiety and drinking problems. But more specifically, the two are similar in that both creatures are surrounded by myth, speculation, and conflicting information. Thanks to that, there are certain beliefs that get embedded regarding the strange animal known as the writer and the craft they practice, some of which I wanted to go ahead and debunk today. If this goes well, perhaps I’ll tackle more mythical creatures in the future. Such as leprechauns, and why do they feel the need to hide all that gold? Hint: they’re dodging bookies, poor little folks can’t resist the siren song of gambling. But today, we’re sticking to writer myths, starting with the one I see the most:
Writers Are Either Rich or Broke
When I tell someone I write books for a living, the reactions generally go in one of two ways. By far the most common is they’ll say something about how interesting that is, and then go on to ask me what my real job is. Or they’ll heft their eyebrows up in surprise and say something about the next round being on the guy with the movie pilot surely in the works.
I’m going to blame this one on cinema, because they do tend to always portray writers in one of the two extremes. We’re either shown as dirt-poor, splitting ramen blocks in half for meals to survive, or fabulously wealthy with huge houses and fleets of cars. Hell, if the story is about a writer rising from desperation to success, sometimes you’ll see both depictions in the same film.
But the truth is, writing is just a job like any other, and in that job there is a spectrum of people with different levels of success. Since Fred #3 (Bloody Acquisitions) is coming out next month, let’s use accounting as a comparison. Some accountants are piss-poor interns fighting to make rent. Some run their own businesses and have yachts with smaller yachts inside. And in between those two are a shitload of people who make a living, yet still have to keep track of their spending and budget. It’s the same with writers: the vast majority of us who manage to do this work full time make enough to pay the bills and perhaps put a little into savings, same as other folks our age.
Oh, and almost none of us have movie or TV deals. But I’m always open to e-mails if you’d like to change that!
Writer’s Block Comes From Lack of Ideas
Pretty much all of us have seen this plot device: a formerly successful writer has suddenly run dry of ideas, leading them to take some sort of existential quest to find (true love, the spirit of adventure, their broken parental relationship, cocaine) and rekindle their creative spark. And look, I don’t speak for everyone; I’m not going to say this situation has never happened in all the history of writing.
What I will say, however, is that it has almost never happened. Among all the writers I talk to and work with, lack of ideas has never once come up as an issue. Honestly, if anything it’s the exact opposite; we usually have too many projects that we want to do and not enough time to work on all of them. Story ideas are often the easiest part of the job, your mind conjures some grand tapestry of characters and events that feel flawless (though they never are), and then you have to try and filter that onto a page.
When most of us talk about writer’s block, we’re more referring to not knowing how to get through a story, rather than lacking ideas for a story at all. Our characters are in a tight fix and need a clever solution, but every path they might take seems too obvious. The plot took a convoluted turn several chapters back, and now we have to figure out how to unknot it without entirely tossing out weeks of work. Sometimes it’s as simple as needing to move characters from Point A to Point B and not wanting the transition to feel like filler. Those are the writer’s block moments, where the obstacle before us is so troublesome that we can’t figure out how to get around it, and the frustration leads us to want to stop working on it altogether.
Writers Work When Inspiration Strikes
I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: when you write for a living, there is no such thing as waiting for the muse. Inspiration is fickle and fleeting, not the sort of thing you can base your income on. Yes, writing while in the grips of excitement over an idea is awesome; those moments make us really thankful for the career we’ve chosen. But if I only wrote during those moments, I might produce a book every two years. And not a Super Powereds sized book either, we’re talking 50-60k words, max.
That’s not to say the rest of the time is spent sullenly slunk over a keyboard, bitterly pounding out words. I like writing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have gambled so much to try and make it my job. I like it when inspiration strikes, and I also like it when I’m filling the daily word counts that I set for myself. Yes, the words come a little slower and less frantically, but on the flip side I’m also aware enough to catch more mistakes and think plot elements through. The “inspiration” sessions generally demand twice as much editing as the daily work. The rest of the time, I’m doing my best to move the plot forward, explore the characters, and perhaps work in a little humor on the side.
Writing is like any other job; you have to put in a lot of time to see results. If you’re waiting to work only when you feel like writing, then that flower will take a long while to bloom.