As a matter of fact, the more time and effort you devote to your craft, the more you sweat and bleed in service to the printed word, the harder it becomes to sit down and confront that blank page (or screen). This might seem irrational and counter-intuitive, but I assure you, it’s the case.
I’ve been a professional author for more than 30 years and I know of what I speak.
Each morning I dread crossing the hallway from our bedroom to my home office. It’s only about a 4 or 5 foot gap, but every inch is like “No Man’s Land,” seeded with explosive ordinance, strewn with half-decayed corpses—a terrifying, ghastly expanse.
Will it be a good day, with the words flowing freely, the reception clear, ether crackling with inspiration … or will it be another dud, with the silence in my head all but complete and that plain, white sheet not merely a challenge, but an outright condemnation?
I wake up thinking about writing and when I close my eyes at night, my last conscious thought usually concerns whatever project I’m working on at the moment.
An endless, tiresome loop.
And I’m sorry to tell you, there’s even more bad news to follow.
The ideas don’t come as fast as they used to
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I recall being inundated by notions and concepts, along with a steady stream of characters, incidents, etc. Not anymore!
Inspiration doesn’t strike nearly as often and I work at a much slower pace than I did back then. My editing has become extremely precise and demanding. Stories and poems are subjected to exhaustive scrutiny—is this original enough? Is this saying anything new or different?
The bar’s constantly being raised
I don’t know about you, but I hate repeating myself and I take great pains to avoid falling into patterns, familiar word choices, clichés and formulae.
Each of my books is very different from the others and that’s due to conscious, deliberate effort on my part.
There’s an ongoing struggle to keep the writing process fresh, organic and instinctive, while maintaining the highest literary and aesthetic standards. This involves fearlessly (some might say recklessly!) fusing various genres, playing with tropes and trying to concoct a new type of narrative—plausible, intimate, unforgettable.
If you’re in it for the money, you’re an idiot
The financial rewards of being a self-employed creative writer are just about non-existent, especially if you choose to go the indie/DIY route and release your material yourself.
Major publishers aren’t on the lookout for talented storytellers (really? who told you that?). They’re much too busy scouring the “weeds” for the next-bestseller-which-bears-a-startling-likeness-to-the-last-bestseller or the latest celebrity tell-all.
So the traditional guys are out, and the small presses and university-affiliated imprints are swamped with manuscript submissions … what, exactly, does that leave for the rest of us?
Writing won’t finance your golden years
If you’re dreaming of retiring on the proceeds of your literary career, think again. Most authors I know earn far less than the minimum wage and if they were forced to subsist on what they make from their writing, they’d live in absolute penury.
Furthermore, thanks to the so-called “freeconomy,” artists are expected to give their work away, making it part of a collaborative “commons.” This means zero income, zero savings. Better get used to fingerless gloves, dumpster diving and canned cat food, o intrepid scribe…
No one’s going to tell you how great you are
Nope, not gonna happen. Even a few crumbs of praise will be hard to come by—often, you’ll feel like a starving mouse.
In this biz, you’re far more likely to receive a kick in the ass than you are a pat on the back.
No one, not even friends and family, will understand what you do or how hard you work, which leads us to the next point…
You need to get over yourself
OK, you’re allowed to be introspective and self-absorbed with your first few stories and poems, but the truth is that real artfulness begins with invention, which means using your God-given imagination to make stuff up.
There’s a place for your personal demons, a proper repository for your pain, suffering and angst—it’s called a diary. Keep it locked away, safe from prying eyes. And at the first opportunity, burn it!
No one wants another bad book
If your writing is rubbish, nothing more than derivative fan fiction, amateur erotica or a volume of “poor me” verse dedicated to a boy you liked in the seventh grade, spare the rest of us, won’t you? Don’t foist it on the world and certainly do not try publishing it.
The reading public can do without yet another bad book, especially if its central character is a shape-shifting man-squirrel with a secret crush on the town librarian. Know what I’m saying?
Your craft won’t give you peace of mind
That’s a myth, absolute hooey. The task of writing puts enormous strain on the intellect and spirit—why do you think so many authors are emotional basket cases, susceptible to addiction and depression, and prone to suicide?
When it’s going well, when everything is clicking, it’s wonderful—the greatest feeling in the world. Think about it: You’re essentially creating an entire universe out of thin air. That’s a power verging on magical. But that magic is attained through ritual, repetition and ordeal.
Great books and timeless stories don’t emerge fully formed; they must be coaxed and sometimes bullied into being, and this requires intense effort, a supreme exertion of willpower—
That is, if you’re doing it right.