Look, I don’t know what to tell you. You want to write or do you want to be a writer? I hope the answer is that you want to write, because being a writer isn’t worth it.
This is what I say to people who tell me they want to write. It takes 3-4 hours per day of guided practice, I pause, for ten years. (This is based on Anders Ericsson’s work on expertise.) The ones who don’t flinch have a better shot.
I get emails from people who want their kids to get published. Don’t, I say. Let them love the craft first.
I get emails from people who are brilliant writers who’ve stopped writing. Don’t stop, I say. Remember you once loved this ink, these woods you made, this kid running through it – hot breath piping up from an open mouth. Play again. Lower the stakes. Think of nothing but the first person you fell in love with. Tell them a story.
I get emails from friends whose grown kids want to be writers. They want advice. I give the same advice I do about marriage – only do this only if you’re compelled, if nothing could stop you.
I get a novel from a good young novelist. I read some and then say, Tell me a memory of a crazy neighbor, a bad job, a death you heard rumors about, water, fire… That’s where it is. That’s where I find the truth. Write that.
What’s remembered is worth something. It was held onto for a reason.
You’ve got a secret. Who have you told it to? Who have you withheld it from? Why? Ask your characters the same thing. The stories we are willing to hand over – and those we refuse to give up – that’s some of our greatest personal currency.
Maybe you write because you’re lonesome. You might stop once you fall in love. Remember we’re each just a self and the page is always there.
Maybe you write because you have a story to tell. I can’t imagine the Herculean act of learning to write for just one story, but some stories burn like that, I’ve heard tell.
Maybe you write because you’ve got a chip on your shoulder. The chip might be doing you a favor. You might want to polish it from time to time.
Maybe you write because you have to. Need is the best form of discipline. The page doesn’t need us. It never has and never will.
But need keeps coming. It’s an engine that drives and drives and drives. It has its own will. It says, Ten years? I’ll give you a lifetime.