The drive to write

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A tip established writers tend to tell writers who are just stating out is that you have to not only want to write, but your drive has to be such that you can’t NOT write. Then they turn around and emphasize the importance of Butt-In-Chair. If you really sit down and think about these two bits of advice, they are rather contradictory (and yet, I’m as guilty of giving this advice as anyone else). But think about it, if you truly couldn’t not write, there would be no need to apply BIC because you’d already be in that chair. You’d wake up raring to go and gnash your teeth as you collapse from exhaustion and malnutrition–the only things that could make you stop writing.

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, and not really what people mean when they talk about the drive to write–but sometimes that is what hopeful writers hear. Then they think there is something wrong with them and they must not really be a writer when the thought of opening their manuscript makes them cringe. Ironically, that last bit is exactly when you need that ‘drive’ the most. When the words are flowing and the muse is generous, writing is easy, sometimes even euphoric. But when the writing gets tough and every word has to be dragged out with jagged, rusty hooks–that is when you have to apply BIC and slough through it. 

The truth is, it is easier not to write. Oh, if you have that inner writer whispering stories in your mind and characters jabbering in the back of your head, occasionally the muse will drag you by the ear and the compulsion to write might be so strong that you forget little things like food and sleep for a while. But the muse is fickle and inevitably the well that was overflowing slows. Notice I didn’t say the well dries up or even runs low. No, it simply stops running over. That pool of creativity is still there, waiting to be drawn from, but now you have to work for it. That is when you must have the unwavering desire to be a writer. Because the truth is, writing is hard. 

You can love the characters and the story and the world–and still not want to write. Does that make you less of a writer? Does it mean you’ll never succeed?

Only if you walk away.

Anyone can write when muse-struck, but the writer works even when the muse has run off to greener fields. Writing is more than talent, more than just telling stories, it is a skill. And like any other skill, it has to be honed and used regularly or it decays. And the muse? Well, she’s more a muscle than a ephemeral embodiment of creativity. As you practice your skill of writing, you also flex and build your ‘muse muscle’. Does that mean it eventually becomes easy? Well, if it does, no one has told me, and I certainly haven’t hit that point. But, as someone who spent her youth only writing when the muse struck, I can tell you there is a lot of truth in the old saying “the muse comes to those at the keyboard working.”

So when it gets hard and scrubbing the toilet with a toothbrush sounds better than writing, take a deep breath and remember every writer goes through this. Then summon that drive that made you want to write in the first place, grit your teeth, and get your butt in that chair. If you can do that, whether you are published or not, you are a writer.

Happy new year everyone. May this new year be accompanied by a generous muse and  iron will when she’s elusive.

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16 comments to The drive to write

  • Thanks. I needed this one this week. Getting my word count done each day has been like pulling an elephant out of quicksand lately. But I’ve managed. Butt-In-Chair is what we fall back on when the Muse is on vacation.

  • Lady Ash

    I fully believe my Muse has moved out and left a ‘Room for Rent’ sign hanging invisibly from one of my earrings.

  • I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that “the old saying” “the muse comes to those at the keyboard working” ain’t that old.

    But it’s true 🙂

  • MaCrae

    Ha, my muse has been distracted by a new shiny and when he/she/it is not, he/she/it is in it’s room daydreaming and then throwing a tantrum everytime I actually write.

  • I know what you mean, John. Sometimes I write what I need to hear and hope it helps others as well. Glad to know it hit the mark with someone else. ^_^

    Lady Ash, mine rents to that nasty tenant ‘doubt’ on a regular basis. I keep having to post eviction notices. ^_~

  • AJ, what can I say? Old is relative. *grin*

    MaCrae, yikes! Sounds like you need a new muse. LOL

  • Well said, Kalayna. People sometimes ask me if I write all the time or wait for “inspiration.” And I always respond by saying that if I waited for inspiration I’d never finish anything, and I’d never earn a cent. Writers write. It’s as simple as that. As soon as I start waiting for my muse, I’m in trouble. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, there are days when I would like to do ANYTHING except write. But this is my job as well as my calling. And even when I hate it, I still love it more than any other job I’ve ever had.

  • K–I promise I won’t describe my muse again. 🙂 Let’s just say there is nothing pretty about him. If BIC keeps me from thinking about the need for inspriration, and from thinking about *him*, then so much the better. Also, if I get stuck, I can always squeeze my farting dog. That’s inspiration enough. Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. For those of you who don’t know, Kalayna signing books as part of my release party at the BooKnack in Rock Hill SC. WHOOT!

  • scott

    Great Post, I think thats why having a daily word count every day is important. For me its a thousand words a day, and no amount of writing on one day forgives the word count for the next. My girlfriend often says you don’t need to do that every single day, but I disagree. If I make it a habit then pages get written 5 or so every single day, regardless of whether I’m having great ideas. On the days when its really hard to write, its critical to keep at it. On those days almost 100% of the time after I muddle through the hard is some amazing inspiration waiting around the next corner.

  • I try not to rely on my muse for she’s a fickle b**ch. *grin* As for writing on inspiration, “I only write when I’m inspired and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” – Peter DeVries

    In the past few months my writing muscles have atrophied and sapped my stamina. I can no longer concentrate for more than two hours at a time. BIC is the only way to get them back, so I’m working revisions, new material, outlining, whatever I can to keep any kind of momentum. So far so good.

    Being able to check in here makes a huge difference. Thanks, Kalayna.

    NGD

  • I agree with NGD – being able to check in here helps. It’s like a special sort of support group that encourages productivity. 😉 Plus the community here rocks.

    Kalayna, I needed to hear this, too. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The catch-22 is that I wrestle with guilt about when I’m *not* able to write because of real life stuff, and then that pressure/guilt I put on myself makes the writing even harder. And then it snowballs. This post was great for me in two ways: One, it lets me know that I shouldn’t feel so guilty/self-flagellant about missing a day if life gets in the way. Two, it encourages me to get that B in the C *because* that pressure has been lifted. Thank you!

  • Oh, Kalayna! So, so very true and timely, too.

    An old friend once told me, “Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” He wasn’t kidding! And after a ten year hiatus, the hardest thing I’ve dealt with is getting back into the habit of exercising the writing muscles.

  • Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I love imagining things. I love words. I love all those nifty writery things we writers often love including a good coffee. But I’m no more compelled to write than I am compelled to spend five hours watching MASH reruns and eating cheetos. In fact, if I based my life on what I mostly felt like doing I’d be an unemployed cheeto eater with an encyclopedic knowledge of MASH and about ten unfinished novels. I’d also be miserable.

    Writing, like being a scholar (my other job), takes gritting your teeth and doing it on the bad days as well as the good and all okay days in between. The neurosis that I’m not a REAL writer just because I don’t leap out of bed every morning with words flowing out of my fingers has never done anything but hamper my writing with wasted self-doubt.

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  • Thank you for this post; the timing of it couldn’t have been better. I “set aside” writing last week because I felt I couldn’t lay claim to being a writer anymore. But it’s a lot harder to stop writing than we think it will be, and here I am.

    Favorite part of your article: You can love the characters and the story and the world–and still not want to write. Does that make you less of a writer? Does it mean you’ll never succeed?

    Only if you walk away.