This is What Happened When I Stopped Putting My Writing on a Pedestal
Writing is hard work and it’s time to stop treating it like something fancy
They’re everywhere. I used to be one too — the ‘writers.’ These are people who treat writing like it’s some kind of spiritual practice — as if the words can only come out if the environment is just right.
We’ve got writing groups, writers’ retreats, stay-cations, coffee shops, and special corners of the basement, next to the furnace.
Fancy writers picture themselves as something between end-of-life Hemingway — drunk, with a shotgun in one hand and a typewriter in the other, and Van Gogh — ear-less.
These folks are supposed to suffer for their craft.
And the myth of the suffering artist is contagious. Look at any trendy coffee shop and you’ll see them lurking — the same people every night with laptops and notebooks.
Sure, there’s a manuscript somewhere in the rubble, but there’s more suffering to do before it’s ready.
There’s a built-in support network in the suffering artist community
Creatives like to share war stories around each other. No one gives a damn about that one week where you knocked out 40,000 words effortlessly. No, the crowd wants blood.
Suffering writers want to feel validated, so they’ll seek out more of the same
Fancy writers look to the retreats — there’s a connection to other writers who think writing is fancy too. We’re on the same wavelength so we must be right. Writing is fancy!
Writing isn’t fancy.
Writing is a vocation. House painting, brick laying, and carpentry are vocations too. House painters don’t go on retreats. They paint more houses to get better.
Even Hemingway wasn’t fancy. The man behind the typewriter wasn’t the man he fed to the newspapers. The strapping, safari-going, wild man was his marketing personae. Hemingway worked his ass off. He used a standing desk (the top of a short bookcase) before standing desks became fancy. Hemingway kept meticulous track of his daily word count. Hemingway was blue collar all the way (until he fell off the wagon).
Earnest took a blue collar approach to his writing — his vocation.
Sure, he had plenty of writer friends, some of whom gave him writerly advice, but he didn’t need a massage and a special aromatherapy candle to get Old Man and the Sea on the page. He worked. And he worked some more. Eventually he lost his mind, but at least he did it without being fancy.
When I started writing I thought all writers were supposed to be fancy
I put writing on this high pedestal. I figured I was supposed to toil over my work and suffer through my story — that I wasn’t a true artist if I hadn’t gone through hell during the writing process.
I had this image of the suffering writer, unshaven, unkempt, and un-slept — hunched over the keyboard, in serious agony.
In this fancy mindset my work evolved into something negative. I had put myself in the wrong writing state. Not only did I feel bad when I wrote, but I made negative word choices too.
Why I took the blue collar approach to writing
The moment I had my blue-collar epiphany was the first time I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I know where I was sitting (curled-up at my in-laws’ house, five years ago, during the winter).
Pressfield’s book was a punch in my fancy writing face.
I was hooked. I was sold. I was a 100% pure convert. Since that fateful day I’ve read that book a dozen more times. I’ve got both the paperback and audio version. Any time I feel myself getting soft I return to that book.
Being a suffering artist is a choice
Fancy is a decision. If we want the image of the starving artist, sweating over the keyboard — cool. We’re allowed. But it’s not a requirement for the job. If we want to be commercial writers we’ve got to keep our cheeks in the seat — period.
Every day of writing is an opportunity to hone our craft.
Writing is hard as hell. It’s emotional. It’s painful when the book doesn’t work. Writing is a hard habit to build. When we take the blue-collar approach we put daily rituals in place. We sit behind the proverbial desk no matter what.
What happened when I stopped the fanciness
My writing process changed almost immediately after I read The War of Art. I forced myself to write in multiple locations and conditions. If the mail can be delivered in rain or snow, if a person can shingle a roof in the winter or summer, if an ambulance driver can climb into a pit to rescue someone — I can learn to type anywhere and any condition.
- I practiced writing in both loud and quiet locations.
- I practiced writing with the TV on.
- I practiced writing in cars and on planes.
But there was one method that changed my writing life (and daily productivity) forever — I learned to write mobile. After much trial-and-error I now do a ton of my writing on my phone.
Do your best work using the device you always have in your pocketmedium.com
When I stopped treating writing like some sacred act and looked at the process more clinically, my work improved a hundred-fold. My old, fancy writing seems so self-indulgent now.
I wanted my work to be different than anything out there. I thought I knew better. I wrote some of the worst drivel ever put to paper, but I felt like it was a gift to the world.
Once I got real with myself and looked at writing as a life’s work — a craft — I drew the line and made the hard decision to follow writing as a life’s work, not some occasional act that I did only when inspired.
I was rarely inspired.
Now I write because I decided to write. Whether I want to or not. whether the wind is right or not, whether I feel good about the writing or not. I keep writing and I get a little better every day I do the work.
Pulling back the curtain
Once I was able to paint the act of writing as a vocation and not some philosophical, fancy-schmancy, ephemeral gift, I accepted writing was a craft life anything else.
When we practice a craft we can get better each time we sit.
If writing is really some fancy (which it’s not), you could make the argument that we’re either born with the talent or not — that some people won’t make it as writers.
Sure, not everyone has the talent (or want) to write. But writing is a skill that can be taught. If we do enough legwork, self-reflection, preparation, and training before we sit down, we become transcriptionists when we sit to write.
At no point am I saying writing is easy. Writing is brutal. To create a story that works is sheer force of will. But that story will never be written if we treat writing like it’s fancy.
Our writing is part of who we are.
We’ve bled the best parts of ourselves on the page. Whether we write non-fiction or fiction, when we do our best writing, there are little bits of us left on the page for the reader.
Taking a blue-collar stance to writing doesn’t make it less noble or less creative
The act of writing is separate from the outcome.
Not all stories we write will be good. Many of our stories will be bad. This is part of the process — the baggage that comes with the writer’s kit, along with the self-doubt and the impostor syndrome.
If we write every day we’ll write more good stories — nothing but math. There’s a power in cumulative effort.
Like the old Ray Bradbury quote (paraphrased) that says “No one can write 52 bad short stories in a row.” He suggested new writers craft a short story once a week for 52 weeks.
If we write one short story a year, we’re 52 years behind the once-a-week writer. This is the blue-collar approach. Some days we sit and we’re given a gift. Some days we sit and we write nothing but shit.
It’s all cumulative effort.
How taking tiny steps every day can change your life in profound waysmedium.com
I say let’s band together and lock arms. We can do this. As blue-collar writers we’ve go the dirt under our nails to prove it. We write no matter the weather. We write because we can’t imagine doing anything else.
We don’t wait for a sign from the sky to get started.
We start because it’s what we do. We’re writers. We get to work.
Join us. We’re waiting for you.