My talented writer friend Brianne has been writing some great blog posts lately about the writing life, and it’s inspired me to do some thinking on the subject myself.
It’s been about two years since I started writing and submitting humor on a consistent basis, which has involved a long and exhausting learning curve. And it’s been really fun.
But it wasn’t until I decided to start putting lots of time and energy into writing a full-length novel, which I began doing a few months ago, that I began learning lessons left and right about what being serious about writing actually means; at least in my case—your mileage may vary.
1) Writing takes time, and it takes it away from loved ones and other important and fun activities.
When you work full time, and have a long commute, free time is precious. So using that time to write means saying no to lots of other things; often other things which seem like they might be (or actually would be, depending on how the writing is going) more fun, interesting, meaningful, and fulfilling than sitting in front of a blank word document on your laptop, or struggling through a scene in your book that you’re not sure is even going to make the final cut.
Choosing to spend your free time writing is essentially telling your spouse, family and friends that what you’re doing is as important to you (or, at that moment, more important) than spending time with them, which can make you feel like a jerk sometimes. If you’re lucky, you have a spouse, family and friends who are understanding and supportive (and have their own projects and interests to keep them busy). Also, I try to remember that writing consistently helps me feel happy and balanced, so that I am able to better enjoy the time I do spend with family and friends.
Even so, it’s still hard. Every hour I spend writing is an hour I can’t spend with someone I love (or relaxing, or watching an Arrested Development marathon for the fifth time). That’s no little thing. And it means that when I am writing, I need to make it count. I want it to justify the precedence I am giving it.
2) At least once in the middle of working on a piece of writing, you will have that moment of “Why am I bothering with this? I should just stop.”
Or, you know, multiple moments like that. Sometimes it’s constant. Sometimes it DOES make me quit what I’m doing for the day. Still, in order to fight the urge to give up, when it hits me I try to recall the many times I’ve wanted to stop while I was in the middle of a piece of writing that I ended up finishing, really liking, and maybe even getting published. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you have that feeling, it doesn’t mean that what you are working on isn’t worth finishing. And if you stop, you’ll never know, will you? So, just keep going.
3) You can learn about good storytelling from everywhere.
Now that I’m consumed by the care and feeding of a story of my own, I find myself observing the stories around me with a more critical and interested eye. When I watch a movie or a TV show, I scrutinize the dialogue, examine the plot and analyze character development. When I read a book or a long form piece of journalism, I do the same thing, and also zero in on the elements that work and don’t work in the narrative and descriptive language. Studying the good and bad, the how and why in other creative works teaches me how to improve my own writing, and also helps me enjoy those works on a deeper level.
4) Be grateful that the act of writing is cheap and easy.
In order to practice the thing I love, all I really need is a laptop (or, in a pinch, a pencil and paper). I don’t need expensive art supplies, I don’t need to leave the house to go on acting auditions or attend band practice. I don’t even have to wear pants. Whenever I feel burdened by the weird, obsessive and lonely writing life, I remind myself that I’m lucky that I can do it at home, alone and on a shoestring budget.