We all have them. Friends who are writers. Friends who are not-writers.
And friends who are wannabe writers.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Like the ‘wannabe cowboys’ of the 1990s, who wore brand-new Stetsons and Justin ropers and drove brand-new half-ton trucks that they washed every single day, wannabe writers talk a good talk. But they never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write. And their reasons include:
- I don’t have time.
- I have nowhere to write.
- I had this great idea, but I have to do the research. That sucks.
- I had this great idea, but I found out someone else already wrote a book kind of like it. It’ll suck.
- I’m not as good a writer as Hemingway/Asimov/Stephen King/whoever. It’ll suck.
- I’ve tried to write, but every time I sit down, I don’t know what to say, and I sit there staring at a blank screen and wasting time and then I feel guilty so I get up and go do something else.
- I’ve tried to write, but it sucks. It’s not as good as I think it should be. I give up.
On Top Gear, there is – WAS, sorry, I hate you, BBC! – the “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car” segment. Invariably, guests immediately launch into reasons why their lap times may not have been very good: it was too wet; it was too dry; the gearshift is on the wrong side of the car; I’m on the wrong side of the car; the car broke; I couldn’t see the track; there was a head wind all the way around the track . . . what Jeremy calls “race car driver excuses.”
Wannabe writers do this, too.
Guess what? Everyone starts out sucking. I have a dozen novels – some complete, some not – stuck in a box in storage, where I pray they never, ever see the light of day again. I have a half-finished romance in the style of Victoria Holt; I’ve got a little fantasy series a la Terry Brooks; I’ve got a completed time travel/spy intrigue novel that’s sort of like Diana Gabaldon (and I still like that one; that’s the first good novel I ever wrote). I’ve got another that I’d still like to finish, that I did in my early twenties, that is probably the first book I ever wrote in my own voice. But it took me 10 years to get there. Ten years, plus reading hundreds of novels in a dozen different genres, and at least a dozen attempts at my own novels, to get there.
Every new writer wants to know The Secret To Writing The Great Novel. If they only knew the secret, they say, they’d write.
It’s your lucky day. I’m going to tell you The Secret. And here it is. There’s just two parts to it. It’s so simple.
You can’t write a novel if you don’t read. If you don’t enjoy reading novels, why would you want to write one? Let’s say you want to be a professional Formula One driver, but you don’t enjoy driving. Then what’s the point? To be successful, you need to drive. Drive. Drive. Drive. Formula One cars are nothing like your Toyota Camry. You have to learn to handle something completely new. Learn how to get off the line and never, ever touch the brakes if you can help it; conserve your tires; handle the gear shifts; handle the G-force and speeds of up to 200mph; and how not to fear crashing at speeds of up to 200mph. Plus, you have to study every other driver out there, so you can learn how they drive, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. AND, you have to study the tracks! The best lines through corners, optimum speeds . . .
This is what reading is for writers. When you’re a writer, you read differently. You read for pleasure, but you also read to see how other authors do it. You study the craft by studying other novels.
And you can’t write a novel if you don’t write.
Here’s a sad fact: You will suck at first. That’s a given. Because you have no idea what you’re doing. In writing, we talk about the phenomenon known as the “overnight success.” It’s a lie. No author claims to be an overnight success. They will flat-out tell you how many years, how many drafts, how many books about writing and creative writing classes and rejections they went through before they got that “overnight success.”
They did it by writing.
You will suck. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. At first, we all suck at everything we do. Tennis. Photography. Driving. Writing isn’t any different. The only way to get better is to practice. The only way to practice writing is to WRITE. To stop the excuses and just do it.
Think about it this way: If you don’t start writing now, and get the suckiness out of the way, then in two years, five years, ten years, you’ll still suck at it. But if you start NOW, then you’ll gradually get better. In two years or five years, you’ll be much better. You’ll have much more confidence. You’ll learn to trust your characters and your instincts.
So enough race car driver excuses! Go. Read. Write. And get the suckiness out of the way. 🙂