It’s something we’ve said time and again here, but with a number of new folks coming along on the heels of the con, I think it deserves being said again. If you want to be a writer, you have to write.
Many years ago, when I had first started writing with an eye toward eventual publication, I had a friend who loved to tell me all about the novel he planned to write. It was going to be an epic saga spanning several volumes, with themes of love, patriotism and destiny. Kings and countries and armies and battles made up the canvas against which a tender love story would be displayed. And there was magic, too, although it’s been so long now, I really don’t recall if the magic was in the form of battle mages or something more private, between the lovers. Whatever. Anyway, he had maps drawn, and he knew every character better than he knew the people in his real life. At least once a week he regaled me with the details of how amazing this story was going to be. And as far as I know, to this day he has yet to write a single word of it.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, either. Just last week a man of my acquaintance asked me to listen to his great idea for a story, then spent fifteen minutes spinning it out. When he reached what felt like an end, I told him that his idea wasn’t particularly original, but if he developed his own voice and told it his own way, he might come up with a good story. He said, “How do I do that?” so I answered, “Sit down and write.” He walked away with a doubting look on his face, and I have a feeling he was hoping for some other answer from me than being told to write. But there was no other answer.
It’s easy to “write” inside your head. Shucks, it’s necessary to do so. Up to a point. The writer has to know exactly how her characters think, what their beliefs and reactions will be and even how they look. She has to understand how the world works. Not just the mechanics of the magic, but the nuances of cultural behaviors, the history of the ruling class, how many different languages there are and how long it takes to get from the capital city in the middle of the continent to the eastern seaport on horseback. Eventually the thinking has to become writing. Butt in chair, words on paper, and only then does a book result.
And anyone who’s talked to a published writer knows that this admonition isn’t just for the would-be-published. Putting butts in chairs is just as tough for people who do it for a living. Whether we’re dreading starting a story or struggling with a plot thread that seems to have tied itself into a knot an Eagle Scout couldn’t untie, the urge to run away from the page hits us all. Everyone has something they love doing besides writing. When that blank white page stands before you, suddenly it seems like the perfect time to go practice your dance solo or pick herbs from the garden or hike in the woods or any damn thing except write. That’s when you absolutely must stay in the chair and try to get a page, a paragraph or even just a line written. The especially weird thing is that we all love writing, but we still find ourselves wondering if we shouldn’t fold one more load of laundry before settling down to work.
So here’s the answer…no. No laundry, no dancing, no hiking. No standing around talking about the story in your head for the hundredth time. Sit down, find the words, and put them together into a story that will eventually blow some agent’s mind. Because if you don’t, someone else will.