Oh, we wordherders love to procrastinate. We also love to metaphorically masturbate. We are enamored with conducting “storytelling research” — aka justifying watching hours of TV to see how “the pros” write great dialogue. We lovingly re-read our work-in-progress’ first three chapters again and again, as we’ve done for weeks (or years). We drone on and on and on to our family and friends about the chapters we’ll some day write.
This passivity does a great job of killing time. But it doesn’t make a meaningful contribution to the reason you were put on this planet: to effing write. Writers write. That’s the rule. Buying fancy pens and overpriced Moleskines and sipping lattes at the coffee bar and pontificating about the book du jour — or even worse, The Craft — doesn’t make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.
It’s time you and me had a talk. No, not you — I’m sure you’re doing fine. I’m talking to the dozens of others reading these words, the people who are quietly and dreadfully nodding right now because I’ve pegged them, called them out for the frauds they are. If you call yourself a writer and are not moving the needle in your work-in-progress, you’re living a lie.
Reading a blog about writing isn’t writing. Posting a comment on said blog isn’t writing. Firing up your word processor and finding the courage to fill that vast, cold, white void is writing. Anything less is masturbation. And the worst part? The rest of us can smell your fraudulence. It’s a special sense we writer-folk have. It comes from Doing The Work. We’re not pretenders, like you. We’re predators, hungry to make a living wage in this preposterous business.
I am fully aware of how harsh I’m being. I am also fully aware that you probably really need to hear this. Since your friends and loved ones aren’t writers … they’re practically morally obligated to listen to your stories about the story you’re not writing … I’ll happily be the dick here. I’ll be the dick because I wish someone was a dick to me 10 years ago when I was flapping my gums about my own work-in-non-progress. I’ll be the dick because you need to know that all that romancing and wooing you’re performing on yourself doesn’t matter. At all. It’s wasted time.
I read a lot of author blogs and Twitter streams, and lurk on several writing community websites. You know what I see? Talk-talk-talk. No more talking, please. We’re back in school now, the clock is ticking, and you’ve got to fill the page on that essay question lest you fail the exam. Put those pencils on the page. Get scribbling. You’ve got so many stories within you. You’re sabotaging your career by gabbing and not writing.
I was recently invited to collaborate with a marketing agency to craft a unique web-based transmedia fiction experience. (There’s a video for this experience at the end of this post. Take a peek and check it out, if you’re intrigued.) Here’s how it went down: I listened to the pitch during my day gig lunch hour, learned that I’d be paid for my work, and said yes. I signed a non-disclosure agreement. When I got home, I didn’t do the Snoopy dance, and I didn’t fret if I “had it within myself” to rise to the challenge. I started writing. Because the clock was ticking, and writers write.
This wasn’t the first fiction work I’ve done under an NDA, and you want to know something? I haven’t told anyone this. Being legally bound to not discuss what I was working on made me at least three times more productive than I often otherwise am with my writing. I couldn’t procrastinate, I couldn’t pontificate, and I couldn’t metaphorically masturbate. No time for love, Dr. Jones. It was all about getting the words on the page.
Not talking meant more writing.
You can do this. You can do this, and you don’t need a high-stakes legal contract as an ass-burning motivator, either. It requires telling yourself to shut up.
And let’s be honest: the reason why you’re babbling and procrastinating is because you’re afraid. You’re scared shitless that you’ll write something stupid, or that the words on the page won’t match the visions in your head, or that people “won’t like” what you craft, or that you were told long ago that you couldn’t write, or that the effort — the heroic effort and courage it takes to get moving on this sucker — will be too great, or … or … and … but …
Writers write. That’s all there is to it. It’s not easy; nothing worth doing is easy. But it’ll change your frickin’ life, once you make that shift from talking about writing to Doing The Work. The only thing that separates you from me (or anyone else who calls themselves a writer) is that I’m typing and you’re not. That’s it.
You can do this. You can really do this. Less talk. More action. Cool?