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.