If you’re not writing, then you’re not a writer. There. I said it. Fight me.
In college, I had this friend who fancied himself a writer. At parties, he’d get trashed and go on about the flaws of politics and postmodern art, vowing that his next novel would not only sell a million copies, it would challenge and inspire an entire generation. The more trashed he got, the more he’d go on; the more he went on, the more trashed he got. If you listened long enough, he would situate his work somewhere between Ulysses and Huckleberry Finn. Very apt.
Too bad he hadn’t written it yet.
“It’s all up here,” he would say, pointing at his head. “All of it. I just don’t have time to write it down. Besides, it’s not the right time to release it. People just aren’t ready for it yet.”
I bet you’ve had friends like that. I’ve had plenty. It’s a side effect of lib arts school, I guess: everyone’s creative, even if they haven’t created anything.
Personally, I only call myself a writer on days I’ve written something. Even at work, where I write for a living, I refuse the title if I spend all day editing or sitting through meetings. It’s a stark rule, but it keeps me honest and productive. At the least, it keeps me off the television. (Who needs a marathon of syndicated reruns, anyway?)
Hence I have a few problems with my friend’s bullshittery. And since I’m stuck in a car heading to my in-laws’ with nothing better to do, let’s break it down, point by point.
1. It’s not all up there.
I work on a weekly schedule, not unlike Saturday Night Live or South Park. On Saturday, I list all of my blog ideas in a Trello kanban. The Trello is broken into five categories: “Researching,” “Writing,” “Editing,” Making Graphics” (this one’s new!), and “Published.” As I complete each production phase, I move the entry along the board. I aim to finish researching by Monday evening, drafting by Wednesday, and editing by Friday. The post goes live at 8AM on Saturday. By the time it goes live, I’m already finished scheduling my next post.
When I started blogging, I assumed I could sit at my desk, write, and words would just flow out onto the page. Heck, I even wrote that posting might make for a good 15-minute warm up.
Oh, how wrong I was.
15-minute posts lead to inconsistent content. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice my first month’s posts are irregular, sporadic, and inconsistent. Tone and narrative voice waver between entries, and details tend to slip through the cracks.
Simply put, it’s not all “up there.” All writers have different styles, schedules, and agendas–some of us change it up, depending on the work. My translation schedule looks nothing like my blog schedule, and my schedule for my novel tends to operate on a different timeline altogethee–but my general note stands: good writing takes forethought, and it only ever exists on the page.
2. If you don’t have time for writing now, then you definitely won’t have time later.
Time to play hypocrite–
My life exists in quarter-hour chunks. Though 15-minutes is a little too short for a full production cycle, 15-minute sessions of focused, dedicated writing are often the only ways I get anything done. Hands down, it was the only way my students could pass my class.
I used to teach freshman composition at the local state university. Almost all classes encouraged students to write for 15 minutes every class. Most teachers let their students free write about anything they wanted; I required mine to draft their essays. Each class, I would write a specific, relevant prompt on the board, and my students would work on it without distraction. You’d be surprised how many of them had finished their drafts by the draft deadline; you’d be shocked how many claimed to have finished their papers a week before the final due date. While students in other classes crammed, mine tweaked spelling errors and fixed tense issues. It figures, then, that my students’ work filled the university’s freshman lit journal: they created more quality work because they made time to do it.
Anyone can focus on a task for 15 minutes. Trust me. I have a hard time finishing a Netflix episode, and even I can do it.
Every time I write, I turn off all music, silence my phone, and set a timer. When that timer’s done, I’m done. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to keep this blog going.
3. The only ‘right’ time for your writing is right now.
Planning and drafting aside, the only time to get your work out there is now. There is no excuse.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Machiavelli’s:
After reflecting on what I have said above, I have wondered whether the present times were right for a new prince, and whether there were elements that would give an opportunity to a wise and virtuous one to introduce a new order of things which would bring honour to him and good to the people of this country. It appears to me that so many things now come together to favor a new prince that I never knew a time more suitable than the present. (The Prince, 41)
There is no ‘perfect time’ to write or publish. The stars and planets will not align for you; Odin won’t share his poetry with you. The Muses are myths. You have to reach out and do it yourself, and there’s no moment more appropriate than right now. So get up, find your space, grab a cup of coffee, and get started.
If you need permission, you’ve got it. If you need inspiration, look around you. It’s everywhere.
Anywho, that’s me. Thanks again for all of your support. You guys are the best.
Without you, I don’t know where I’d be. Probably at my desk, thinking about writing a blog instead of actually writing one.
Also published on Medium.