Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Makes a "Real Writer"?

I hate to break it to you, but writers come into this world the same way as everyone else. And when we take up the pen or set our fingers on the keyboard, we have the same 24 hours in a day, the same family obligations, the same career issues, and other distractions as everyone else in the world. The difference is we make writing a priority.

Note I didn't say, the priority. Because that's an ideal most of us can't or won't commit to. But for those of you struggling to become a "real writer," here are a few basic ideas about what that term really means.

Real writers show up at the keyboard every day. Well, okay, maybe not every day is spent in front of a computer. But we do find unique opportunities to jot down notes, play with plot points, and keep our writing a priority when other priorities demand our attention. We get out of bed an hour early, skip our favorite television show in favor of some writing time, or sneak in a chapter once the kids are asleep. We try to write or work on our writing in some way at least five days a week (like a real job...'cuz, hey! That's what it is!) We might bring a pad and paper to jury duty or the doctor's office or a school function. We read on the beach and in the bathtub and before we go to sleep, whether it's books on the craft or books by our favorite authors, we're constantly studying the market, the trends, and the business. We attend workshops, whether in person or online. We (okay..."I") run dialogue while stuck in traffic. The point is, we spend a great deal of time focused on writing.

Real writers don't blow deadlines. My dear friend and idol, Bertrice Small, will back me up that this is a Cardinal Rule in writing. Blowing deadlines is unprofessional, inconsiderate, and just plain self-destructive. Good girl that I am (honest!), I'm big on following the rules. So even when I don't have a true deadline, I set myself on one. Whether it's to finish a WIP, complete edits, start sending queries or followups, or to send something back to my editor (like the copyedited version of A Run for the Money, which I'm currently reviewing), I choose a reasonable date as my goal and stick to it. The important thing to remember is to make the date reasonable and then stay focused as if your career depended upon you making that deadline. Because, in the long haul, it does!

Real writers have discipline, not excuses. Through the years I've met lots of people who want to write and have even begun the process. Some may have finished a manuscript or two. A few have not only completed a manuscript but have received a request from an agent or editor to review the manuscript for possible publication! But...somewhere on the journey, the glorious momentum stops. The writer becomes distracted or fearful of the next step or procrastinates on the follow-up and wham! Years go by and they still haven't moved forward. Or they've begun a new project without ever completing the final steps on the old project. And they get caught in this vicious circle: start something, stop; start something new, stop; start something new, stop. The list of excuses is endless: "I'm waiting until I have more time," "My day job is crazy busy," "The agent or editor has probably forgotten all about me by now," "I decided to write something totally new and different..." Sorry, kids. You want to be a real writer? Stick your butt in the chair and write! And when you've completed your story, submit it! And while you're waiting to hear from those submissions, write something else!

Real writers take risks. It takes a lot of courage to decide you have something worthwhile to say to the world at large. It takes even more courage to start the process of writing. And you're dipping into that courage well again to finish the story, to share it with outsiders, to submit it to publishing houses and agents even when you get rejection after rejection. And the need for courage doesn't stop when you sign the contract either. There are reviews and booksignings and speaking engagements and promotion, and a host of other terrifying "monsters" to face. Again and again and again. The trick is to keep going, always moving forward, always conquering those monsters. about you? Are you a real writer?