Writing Crafts the Author
Writing is the forge. You are the metal.
It sounds backwards but, despite the juxtaposition, it remains the truth.
Writing is unyielding; it doesn’t care how many times you’ve completed a post or a story. It scoffs at your accolades and accomplishments. It is unmoved by your professional and personal testimonials.
Writing is the blazing fire; the unconquerable inferno that bewitches the soul of every author.
In the shifting, amorphous flames we see all that might be if only we can withstand the conflagration.
What you need to do, what you must do, if you seek to endure writing’s searing embrace is learn how to write despite all the distractions which assail you.
There exists no single skill more relevant and necessary to both green recruit and seasoned veteran alike. Not one. Angels could rejoice at your every turn of phrase but if you can’t get off social media long enough to finish your work, it avails you not. Even if each idea which came to you arrived super-charged by the dark genius of Mary Shelley, it would not be enough to save you from the harsh realities of the craft if you are not prepared for them.
When you sit down to write, your only company is the stubbornly blank page staring back at you and every insecurity you never knew you had. No amount of grand ideas will save you from the grueling work of hammering the keyboard.
“Justin,” cry ye wretched dreamers. “How can we withstand that which cannot be withstood?!”
Rejoice, o’ wanderers of human imagination, for I have come to bestow upon you joyous revelations to guide you in the wilderness.
Revelation Numero Uno — Temet Nosce
I don’t want to hear about how much you think you know about yourself; it’s not enough.
I started writing at thirty-one. I had been through a ten year career as a public servant, been married, had a child, bought and sold two homes, and endured the opening salvo of my mother’s wasting illness.
I found out how little I truly knew about myself once I sat down in a quiet room with nothing between me and all the things I had been refusing to deal with.
It was a revelation akin to the horrifying moment of opening the garage freezer and finding out only then that the motor died two months ago.
I am here to tell you without equivocation or prevarication; start studying your habits and personal quirks like it’s the only thing that will save you from a fiery doom.
Keep a journal. It doesn’t matter where or how; pick the one you will use most. Personally, I wrote about all the nonsense I noticed in my blog. It served the dual purpose of honing my writing skills and provided the necessary space for self-reflection. I understand if the prospect of airing your personal foibles for all the world to see doesn’t thrill you, but my career is defined by my need to cling to whatever flotsam I can find as I struggle to keep my head above water.
So, figure out what works for you. Then, hold yourself to task.
If, to pull a completely random and not at all factual idea out of the hat, you find yourself posting endless shout-outs and kudos to all the writing you’re (not) doing, then you need to find a way to nanny that outlet. There are several effective services that do this very thing. I shan’t offer them up here, but a simple google search shows at least four trustworthy programs that you can research at your leisure.
Alternatively, a… friend of yours… might have found themselves using all of their free time to play video games or watch movies. Maybe they have a physically demanding job where they manage a dairy and have to work really hard to make up for the slack of others who refuse to care as much as they do. Maybe they have literally any other job and it’s still exhausting and when your friend gets home they don’t want to do anything.
These are problems you can’t just shrug off. Unless you deal with them, pronto, your career isn’t going anywhere. Take that last one; I have come to know a lot of authors, and they all have some form of day job. Even the ‘successful’ ones.
Writing rarely pays enough to be your sole source of income.
So when you come home and all you want to do is play some freaking candy crush loud enough so that you can’t hear your work goblins, then it’s time to consider going to bed an hour early each day. Get your usual allotment of sleep, then wake up an hour early so you can write when you’re not bogged down by the day you’ve just endured. Chug coffee like a demented hipster if that’s what it takes to make you cogent!
Just remember that refusing to acknowledge and work through your personal set of hurdles is setting yourself up for failure.
Take it from me: you can’t just sit back and expect your career to adjust to your life. If it is victory that you seek, then you must sally forth to meet the enemy.
The Second Revelation or; How I Learned to Stop the Hate and Love My Writing Style
When you’re starting out, you’re going to copy the writing style of other writers.
Everyone does it. Every. One.
That famous author you like? They did it, too.
One of my all-time favorite fantasy series is The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. He wrote a masterpiece of world-building excellence.
The first book, Eye of the World, is such a rip-off of Lord of the Rings that it makes me laugh whenever I introduce the book to new readers.
That is, without exception, the first observation they all make.
The pacing, the flow, the structure, character traits; all of them are stitched together using the pages of Tolkien’s work as the base fabric.
Please do not mistake me; I am not attempting to bash on Robert Jordan. His work is nearly without equal. The world he built is full of rich complexity and delicious intrigue such that each visit brings to light a nuance you had missed. His death saddens me every time I think of it. I will never have the opportunity to tell him in person how much his work has meant to me.
The fact remains, however, that until about the third book (arguably the fourth), The Wheel of Time was eerily similar to a lot of other fantasy books which were also eerily similar to the works of Tolkien.
This ties into the first point, but at the same time is wholly separate from it; to write in your own voice you must first write in the voices of others. A lot.
You’re going to write a disturbingly long time before you figure out the minutia of putting your imagination onto paper in a way that doesn’t resemble the work of others.
It’s part of the process, but one that a lot of people I really admire and respect struggle with. Being yourself in print requires courage and determination; an odd mixture of crowing bravado and a yeoman’s work-ethic.
Bombast has never been a huge part of my existence. Shouting my triumphs from the rooftop of my soul, declaring in a loud and bold tone “Here stands Justin, whose works are good and worth reading!” is a thing that doesn’t come naturally to me. Consequently, my writing suffered until I began to trust in myself. This took years. Plural.
Now, even when I’m in the depths of personal despair, my style of writing shines through. A mixture of emotional and funny; the mid-point betwixt a Ted-Talk and a Monty Python skit.
Regardless of when your own voice arrives, you’ve got to have the tenacity to endure until its arrival. Time and effort are the only things which shall summon it.
The Revelations Have Been Given — Now Start Writing Already!
Writing is hard. There are going to be a million different things that you’ll have to relearn between now and whatever goal that you’ve set for yourself in your career. Heck, even setting appropriate goals is something you’ll need to work on.
Now, though, you’re armed with hard-earned wisdom that I wish a thousand times over I had been given when it was my turn to start wandering in the desert looking for my career.
You must first come to know everything there is to know about how you react to the task of writing.
Then, once you have come to know your foibles and surmount them, you must allow writing to forge you into the author you will be.
I wanted to be a serious man who wrote serious books about serious things. Much to my dismay, I found out that I have a real knack for making giant bears punch giant robots.
I could not be more delighted at where I’ve ended up.
Neither of these aspects will be easy to obtain. They will require that you dedicate not days, or weeks, or months, but years to their acquisition. I still struggle with both at various times, despite all that I have learned while doing things the hard way.
Never fret, ye children of the forge. While you may feel lost at times, you shall never be alone.
The only ones who want you to succeed as much as you do are the rest of us smoldering in the furnace with you.
The Unsheathed Quill