This week I was enraged, yet again, by a reappearance of the ‘writers write, and nothing stops them writing’ meme. I won’t link to the specific instance, because it was posted under lock, but here’s a (comparatively inoffensive) case of the genus in the wild. (It was the first one that came up on Google. I do not endorse the contents of the rest of the blog, either.)
Articles like this begin with ‘writers write’, which is true, if inane. I said myself, the other week, that the best way to get good at something is to do it and do it and keep doing it.
They then extrapolate.
Some of them add, implicitly or explicitly, ‘every day’. Some of them add, implicitly or explicitly, ‘and don’t make excuses’. Some of them end up implying that any week – any day – that you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.
Which is bullshit.
This is the longest thing I’ve written in days. I’ve written no fiction at all since last Wednesday, and I could quite see this state of affairs continuing all summer. Have I suddenly stopped being a writer? Of course not.
Here is a selection of reasons why I haven’t been writing:
- I wanted to read Alistair MacLean instead.
- I have had a lot going on in my day job.
- I spent last Saturday at Norwich Pride.
- I’d never seen Die Hard and we had to spend an evening remedying that state of affairs.
- It was my birthday.
- A fanfic I’ve been following was updated, so I read that instead.
- I was off sick for two days and good for nothing other than sleeping and watching Star Trek.
- I’m not a morning person.
I could point out the ways that all those things that don’t look like writing could contribute to making me a better writer. I could tell you that reading and watching other creators’ work gives me tools to use in my own. I could tell you that time in the ‘real world’ expands the material I have to write about. And that would all be true, but that’s not my point.
Because really, it all comes down to this:
I’ve been really tired and haven’t felt like writing.
That ‘excuse’, yes.
Here are some other reasons, which don’t apply to me, but which do apply to plenty of other writers who may not be in the physical act of writing at this moment:
- childcare responsibilities;
- other care responsibilities;
- having to work two or more jobs to make ends meet;
- chronic illness or disability;
- wanting to enjoy that holiday of a lifetime and not spend it on things they ‘should’ be doing.
I’m sure there are many, many more. Feel free to mention them in comments.
These days it’s increasingly difficult to make a living by writing alone, and most of us therefore don’t have the luxury of time devoted to writing. We have to fit it in around the edges, and sometimes the edges themselves are filled up with things like other responsibilities, or sleep, or even fun.
Here’s the thing: I know, because I’ve been here before, and I’ve come through it and written again, that it’s not the end of me as a writer. I very much doubt that anyone would try to tell me that it was, now that I’ve finished and published a book and won an award with it.
I put the first word of Speak Its Name on the page in November 2007. I approved the finished work in January 2016. Did I write every day of those eight-and-a-bit years? Of course I didn’t. And it’s the better for it.
But I also know people who have been discouraged by this ludicrous gatekeeping, who have believed the pernicious myth that because they couldn’t or didn’t devote every spare minute to writing they weren’t ‘really’ a writer, and stopped altogether.
Bullshit, I say again. Stop telling people this. It’s untrue and it’s harmful. It’s not encouraging people to write; it’s doing the opposite.
You don’t get anywhere as a self-published author by caring what other people think about you, but it’s taken me a long time to get past caring what other people think about me. I didn’t tell very many people that I was writing, and it was largely due to the fear of coming up against this idea that I wasn’t.
I am not excusing – or asking you to put up with – the tedious people who bang on and on about how much they’d like to write, or expect you to listen to their detailed exposition of what they would write if only they had the time. You could consider sending them an invoice for your skills as a writing consultant. Certainly if one more person tells me that everyone has a novel in them, I shall find it difficult to restrain myself from attempting to extract theirs by violent means.
But you don’t get to tell people that they’re not a writer. I don’t, either. (That picture at the top of the page? Means basically nothing in terms of my right to assess other people’s writer status.) Nobody does.