How Much Do “Real Writers” Write??

Originally Posted: October 22, 2012

Recently, in the spirit of being less solitary in my vocation, I joined one of those online discussion groups for writers… A young writer came to the group last week seeking advice around ‘discipline.’  She expressed (bravely) her angst about feeling thwarted by a ‘lack of disclipline.’  She was a procrastinator, she said, and just couldn’t get herself to be productive some days…

This provoked a maelstrom of passionate and contradictory advice about what it means to be a ‘real writer.’ One author stated haughtily, ‘If you’re a real writer, write. If not, don’t waste your time pretending to be.’ Another said, “all that non-writing time means you’re a non-writer. Writers write. Poseurs talk abnout writing when the mood is upon them.”

This seemed to me like the most simplistic, self-righteous and unhelpful advice I’ve ever heard about writing, and I said so.  If you’re trying to produce art, it can take time, and sometimes doodling, daydreaming, going for walks, staring out the window are all crucial parts of the creative process.  All of that “non-writing” time sometimes produces the best piece ever written!

Some of our most brilliant writers struggled mightily with motivation, self-criticism and productivity. Virginia Wolf for instance. Junot Diaz. John Updike and Richard Ford took big breaks from their writing: did that mean they should hang it up and go to dental school? Please, never listen to people who tell you that ‘real writers’ rush happily to their computers every day, just dying to get their 1,000 words down…

If you don’t feel some fear and trepidation, in fact, at the idea of your story or novel or poem, chances are you’re not really challenging yourself all that much…

On the other hand, if you stop showing up altogether, for weeks or months, then your story may take flight… Ritualizing your writing, somehow, turning it into a regular practice, can make it much easier to bypass your self-critical voices and break through resistance. ((Sometimes when I just can’t get myself to sit down, I ask what’s preventing me from facing my work that day? What are my fears around this project? Then I’ll list them, or take fifteen minutes to have a dialogue with my inner critic on paper.  Often, this can help me move forward, feel inspired again…

But the bottom line is that every writer’s process is different, and there are a million ways to approach the creative process.  Somerset Maugham said, there are three rules for writing a novel, and unfortunately, no one knows what they are!

Posted by: Dori

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