Every working writer, even relatively obscure people toiling in the salt mines like Yours Truly, get questions now and again from aspiring writers who want advice. Occasionally it’s practical questions about your career and how you got there, but I always find these questions more touching when they are about the craft itself, and the working life that goes with it.
I got one of these today, which came from a person in his early 20’s, trying to fit in his writing as a hobby while going to college (presumably to learn to do something other than write). He’d been scribbling out a few short things here and there for the last couple of years, never submitting them for publication or committing seriously to the process of feedback and rejection that it takes to hone his instrument.
Now, of course, he’s worked at it long enough to be struck by a Great Idea for a story. But he’s afraid to start it.
The sheer task of it seems too immense. Even in a best-case scenario it would take me a year or more to belt this out and have it ready to go, and that doesn’t even involve finding someone to print it. As I’m a college student, it’d probably be closer to three years — if I plan on sleeping and studying, that is.
I’m worried that I’d just become overwhelmed and and wind up floundering with it, become depressed over that, and quitting altogether.
So really, I was wondering if you had any tips for getting over that kind of fear. I have no idea whether or not it’s common to authors (aspiring or otherwise), but I figured my best chances of getting a useful answer come from asking someone who’s actually a published author.
I wish I had a better answer for this young scribe, because if I did I would publish it as a self-help book and peddle it to the masses. But on the off chance that anyone else who reads my blog might possibly have a similar problem, I’ll pass on my answer to you as well.
The short version?
Just do it.
The long version goes like this.
I’m not sure how to supply you with the courage to tackle an immense writing project, as I don’t feel I have ever written anything “immense”. When I am writing hard, I generally pound things out in a few months at most. I have no idea what length of work requires two or three years to complete, or why your previous work hasn’t been submitted for publication.
Once you get past the nine-month mark, your creative project is taking you more time than it takes a human being to give birth to a child, and giving birth to a child is about the longest stretch at once that I have ever had to work creating something all on my own.
What I can say is that I would not attempt any Great Magnum Opus if I had not worked my way up the ramp by completing and publishing some less daunting projects first. But that is just me. I have been at this for over 22 years now, after all. My first semi-pro publication was a literary review. My first fiction publication was a short story. I’ve just gone on from there in a fairly predictable, rather meandering way.
These things being said…there is also a reason that so many generations of men have embodied the Muse as a woman. Your relationship to your art is very much like your relationship to a person: if you do not respect your art and commit to it, give it the time and attention it deserves, it will lose patience with you and desert you in the end.
Your creative side does not like to be taken for granted or neglected. It wants your time and attention. It wants you to work hard to keep it happy.
I’m sorry that I cannot tell you exactly how to overcome your fear and commit to this story, any more than I can tell you how to overcome your fear and ask the person you love to marry you. All I can say is that no one else can do it for you. And if you’re a real writer, you will never be happy or at peace until your stories are told.
That, and the only guaranteed way to “fail” at anything in life is to give up, of course.
If you’re the Ragequit kinda guy, writing is not going to be your gig.
Writing is like True Love, or becoming an astronaut, or making it to the Olympics. The path you walk is always littered with frozen bodies, like the last few kilometers at the peak of Mount Everest. You end up walking past a lot of people who just weakened and fell, or sat down and said “I’m tired” or “I can’t go any further”. Those people stay stuck where they are and never make it to achieve any kind of success…not even the pleasure of having completed a serious piece of writing.
If you don’t want that to be you–don’t let it happen.
Put one foot in front of the other. Put one sentence after the other.
No matter how slow you’re moving, no matter how hard it is, so long as you keep at it, you’re not going to be just another wannabe-sicle.
And you’re writing a hell of a lot faster than the guy who’s afraid to begin.