Writers write – but fuck the rules

snoopy“If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.” I bet you’ve read that before, right? I’ve seen it perpetuated so many times, and it really annoys me because it’s absolute bollocks. I bet it scares off many potential writers and that’s a real shame. I fucking hate the “rules of writing”. There are no rules. This is art, motherfucker. You don’t impose rules on art. There are many truisms, many universal truths. One of those, without question, is this: Writers write. That is the foremost truism among all writers. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you write, you are a writer. Do you have to write every day? Fuck no.

People have lives, jobs, families, responsibilities. If you want to be a writer, you have to make time for writing. You won’t find time for it. No one can find time, there aren’t lost minutes down the back of the couch or an hour or two growing on a time-tree in the Magical Forest of Creative cocking Genius (yeah, that’s a real place – you have to finish a book before you get the key to the magic gate). You make the time. But some people can only make time on the weekends. Or in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. They’re still writers, because they write. If all you do is make excuses, you’re not a writer. If you make time, however little or infrequently, you are a writer.

stop-talkingHere’s a comparison. I’m an international master of Choy Lee Fut kung fu. I run a martial arts academy – teaching kung fu is my other job. I’ve spent more than 30 years training and learning and getting myself to where I am now. The more I practice, the better I get. I encourage my students to practice every day. The really good ones do practice a lot. But they don’t practice every day, I bet. And neither do I. I can’t. Sometimes there’s just other stuff going on. Sometimes I need a break. Some days I just simply cannot be arsed. And that’s okay. Because I still practice a lot. I don’t suddenly stop being a martial artist on the days I don’t practice. A writer doesn’t stop being a writer on the days they don’t write. If they stop writing and don’t start again, that’s different. If they only write three times a week, once a week or once a month, they are still a writer. Sure, the more they write and the more often they write, the better they will be. Just like the more I train and practice, the better a martial artist I am, and my skills won’t lessen through lack of use. But I’m still a martial artist however much I practice. People are still writers however much they write. To get really good, they write a lot. If you really want it, that’s what you’ll do. But when you can’t write, when life is in the way, don’t sweat it. Just get back to it asap.

Did he say every day? Hell, no. And this is Stephen goddamn King.
Did he say every day? Hell, no. And this is Stephen goddamn King.
I’ve spent many years building a life that includes lots of writing time. I have two full days and one half day a week that are set aside only for writing. I teach a lot in the evenings, so those full days end when I have to go out and teach, but they’re writing days nonetheless. Sometimes on those days, I don’t write. I’m still a writer. I’m just a lazy writer that day, or a procrastinating one. Or I just need a fucking rest. On the “non-writing” days, sometimes I get an hour or two of writing in, sometimes I don’t. After all, I’ve got a business to run. I’ve often gone a week or two weeks without writing anything, and I’m someone with lots of dedicated writing time every week. I’m still a writer during those times.

So when you read these bullshit rules that say “You have to write every day”, scream at the top of your lungs, “Fuck that shit!” Unless you’re in a library or a kindergarten or something. Use your own discretion.

Screw the man, fuck the rules, be an artist.

Make time to write whenever you can, and write. Then you are a writer. If you just make excuses and “can’t find the time to write” you are not a writer, you’re an excuse maker. And that’s okay. Because if you really wanted to write, you would make the time, however little or infrequent that time might be.

Make time. Write. You are a writer.

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EDIT: In response to this post, I got a few comments on social media. Two in particular make a very valid point. On Twitter, Andrew McCrae said:

“Terry Dowling has a good take on that: you don’t have to write every day but you have to be a writer every day, ie pay attention.”

And on Facebook, Traci Harding said:

“…writers have to have day dream days too, so even when you are doing other stuff the story can be unfolding in the back of your mind. And it doesn’t matter how long it is before you put it down, you’re still writing in your head.”

These are very important points, which is why I’m adding them here. It further enhances the assertion that even when you aren’t writing, you are still a writer. Always be a writer. Actually write as often as you can. Done.

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5 thoughts on “Writers write – but fuck the rules

  1. Hi Alan,

    I agree with a couple of your latest posts. I’ve always thought that lists of things writers should do or be are a bit prescriptive. There’s more than one way of doing just about everything. Some will be over the moon to have a short or two out there in a year, others won’t be happy unless they’re got 3 or 4 novels on the shelves. Whatever. Sean Williams said I should try for 2K words a day. I think I’m averaging about 1K and for now that’s not going to change.

    Also agree with the “You Don’t Owe Me Anything” post. There’s a giant gap in the Aussie SFF community where it comes to critical feedback. I guess a few review sites have closed down recently so feedback is even more difficult to come by, but there’s no point in screwing your readers for it. Anyone writing for adulation (or even affirmation) in Australia should give up now.

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