The other day, during an #askagent session on Twitter, my friend Emma asked, “What tools are out there for writers who struggle with motivation?”
To which the agent responded, “If you’re not motivated, maybe you shouldn’t be writing.”
This irked me to no end because a) why offer yourself up to questions if you’re just going to give crap responses like “give up”, and b) the answer he gave makes it out like if you hit a rough patch, if you sometimes hate what you’re writing (or even the act of writing), if you ever want to do other things, if you don’t live in Writerville 24/7, then you’re obviously not meant to write.
You know, like, ever.
Which is bad enough, when you think about it, but then someone stepped in to quote Ray Bradbury:
“Writing is survival. Not to write, for many of us, is to die.”
Pardon me while I call bullshit.
Writing is many things–many wonderful things–but it isn’t necessary for survival.
Not for anyone.
Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Writing is a luxury. It’s an indulgence. The fact that you can read this should be proof enough, because roughly 15% of the world’s population can’t. They can’t read. And they can’t write. And you can bet your ass they’re not dying from it.
I mean, really. What a silly thing to say–that if you don’t write, you’ll die.
Talk about a first world problem.
Over the years, I’ve met my fair share of writers. And writers? We’re a neurotic bunch–some more than others. But that’s to be expected–a huge chunk of our time is spent talking to imaginary people.
But my biggest pet peeve thus far has to be the perpetuation of the myth that real writers (as opposed to the “fake” ones, I guess) have been touched by God or a Thetan or a unicorn or something. No matter how you slice it, they hold firmly to the belief that they’ve been “chosen” over the rest of us losers.
Having a rough go of things? Too bad you’re not a real writer. If you were a real writer, it would all come naturally.
Publishing industry got you down? Better give up now–you’re obviously not cut out for this business.
Would rather watch Teen Mom 2 on Netflix than write the next chapter? A real writer would keel over dead from all that time spent not writing.
Ironically, it’s been my experience that these real writers–the writing-is-my-destiny writers–are often the ones who write the least. They’ve cloaked themselves in the identity of a writer, right down to the #amwriting hashtag and Ray Bradbury quotes. But they never transitioned from noun to verb.
They’re so busy being a writer that they fail to do any writing.
Writing is not who you are. Human is what you are. A husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, cousin, daughter is who you are. Writing is what you do.
That’s all it is. That’s all it will ever be.
And perpetuating these asinine ideas of “writers are born, not made” and “if it ain’t easy, it ain’t for you” and “you just don’t want it bad enough” makes for an unhealthy, imbalanced, toxic environment. I associate with very few writers because of this mentality. I don’t want to be around it. I don’t even want to be around people who are around people who are around it.
Early last year, I came down with an inflammatory disorder. No one knew what it was, or how it developed, or what to do about it. It caused a lot of pain, mostly in my arteries (my carotid artery was a bitch at night, let me tell you), and my back (I have a pinched nerve), and my reproductive system (you don’t even want to know).
When it hit, I was in the middle of a major revision for a book that had gotten a pretty good response. I had high hopes. It felt like the one. But then life happened. For a while, I tried to work through it. But as the inflammation progressed, the writing stopped. It had to. The threat of “no words today” dying was nothing compared to the threat of, you know, dying dying.
Eventually, we found a series of treatments that worked well enough, but when I went back to that project, my enthusiasm was nil. I didn’t have much in terms of motivation to finish the project. It was like, you know, who cares. Whatever.
If I were to follow Mr. Ruben’s logic, the answer would have been simple–give up. The window’s probably closed already. The person who asked for the revision probably doesn’t even want it anymore, probably doesn’t even remember it. A real writer wouldn’t have this problem. A real writer would have worked through the pain. A real writer would have made a successful career out of it by now.
If I were to follow Ray Bradbury Quote Girl’s logic, I would have suffered from, like, word asphyxiation or some shit. I don’t really know what part of the body metabolizes words, so, you know, whatever.
(Ha. I just figured it out. It’s like, the brain, or something. Which is why I keep talking like this. Damn you, Teen Mom 2!!)
But thanks to past experience, I knew better. It wasn’t my desire to write that was in question, or even my ability. It was my stamina. In the same way I had to go back to week one of the C25K running plan to rebuild my endurance (and attention span) when it came to running, I needed to retrain my brain and build up my endurance for writing.
Instead of freaking out about God revoking my writing privileges, I saw the setback for what it was. I wasn’t a writer who couldn’t write. I was a person with a short attention span who was out of practice when it came to writing. The first option calls for sobbing and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The second calls for an egg timer.
That’s where most writers falter–when doubt seeps in and they begin to question whether or not they’re meant to do this, only to find the answer is no.
No one is meant to do this.
It isn’t a destiny or a calling or a birthright. It’s just this thing we do.
And while I know it’s not what many writers want to believe, once you realize it’s what you do, not what you are, that it’s the effort you put forth, not the approval or rejection of some ethereal force, then the next time you’re having a rough go of it, you won’t ask yourself if you’re a writer, you’ll ask how you’re going to keep writing.
That’s when you go from being a noun to being a verb, from being someone who is something to being someone who does something.
And if that ain’t motivation enough, I don’t know what is.