I haunt a few writer’s groups/forums online. Most of them are populated with people around my own skill/experience level, that is, people who have been in the writing game for a while and have a few things published. One of them, however, seems to be largely populated by newer writers–ones who are just starting out, or who haven’t been published yet or haven’t been at it very long. The contrast between these two types of groups is glaring.
I once saw someone coin a brilliant phrase which has stuck with me for years, though I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it. The phrase is “fetishizing the process.” This means focusing on the superficial aspects of something rather than the technical skills involved. I’m talking about wanting a picture for your Instagram of your neatly-organized desk, as you sit behind it with your scholarly glasses on, gazing out the window at a serene landscape, a bookshelf behind you (full of other people’s books), or the person who takes pictures of their expensive Macbook in a coffee shop or on the beach with an open (empty) Word document on the screen. That’s all well and good, and you might do this from time to time, but it actually has nothing to do with writing. It doesn’t matter what you write with, if it’s a paper notebook, an electronic tablet, or a laptop with some complex writing software, you can write anywhere and on anything and still be a writer.
We never see pictures of writers hunched over their laptops, hair wild, in their pajamas, with a quickly-cooling cup of coffee next to them; or with a pet in their lap as they write, or screeching children dancing around them. No pictures of a writer tucked in a corner, desperately trying to escape these things in order to get a few words down. No action shots of a writer trying to find a clean spot on their desk to jot a few notes while they type. And unless you live next to the beach or in some exotic vacation-type spot, most writers will tell you those are awful places to try to write, because you’re distracted by the scenery and the knowledge you could be out there having fun instead of writing.
Here’s a few things I’ve noticed new writers tend to ask on the less-experienced forum. If you’re a new writer, take heed, this may ease your anxieties a bit:
- How many words do I need to write a day to be a writer? Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day! Should I write that many? Is 1,000 okay? What if I write a lot more? Or less? Here’s the truth: some days you might write a lot, and some days you might write absolutely zilch. You’re still a writer. There’s no magic number. Writers just write and set their own goals.
- How many books about writing should I read? Should I read Stephen King’s On Writing? Is that a prerequisite? What are the best books about writing? While it’s all well and good to learn about your craft and take the advice of others, don’t procrastinate on your actual writing by reading about writing. It’s easy to get caught up in learning instead of doing. By all means, read and learn things, but again, writers write. By the way, I love Stephen King and I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve never read On Writing.
- How soon after my first book is published can I quit my day job? Can I buy my dream house after a year? Hahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
- Do I really need to be good at spelling and grammar? You might think I’m joking, but I’m stunned at how many new writers don’t put a lot of weight on having a strong grasp of grammar and spelling. True enough, if you’re a brilliant writer otherwise an agent or editor might overlook it, but almost probably not. Some agents and editors won’t even read past the first page of something that’s riddled with errors, even if your pitch is amazing. Yes, you have to have a firm grasp of, if not VERY good grammar and spelling skills. Agents and editors don’t have time to teach you.
- Should I get a Macbook? Yes. No writer has ever been published without the aid of computer that costs at least a thousand dollars. Sorry.
The truth is, writing isn’t always pretty. It’s easy to get caught up in having everything ‘perfect’ when you begin writing, but it’s not necessary. You don’t need a stack of books about writing, or Scrivener, or the exact right kind of coffee. Say it with me, kids–print it out and stick it on the wall, tattoo it on your forehead: