soldier_penHere’s a question for you. Why do you write? Possible answers include:

  1. Easy money
  2. Can’t hold a real job
  3. Just want my voice to be heard
  4. Just sort of feel like I have to

If you answered 1 – easy money – you’re either inexperienced, deluded or perverse…all treatable conditions.  If you answered 2 – can’t hold a real job – at least you’re being honest. If you answered 3 – just want my voice to be heard – you deserve honor and respect, sympathy and prayers. If you answered 4 – just sort of feel like I have to – you’re in the big fat majority here.

Many writers feel like they have no choice. We write because something named or nameless inside them makes us write. We often feel frustration because nothing we write seems to quell or quench the urge within. So we answer 4 – just sort of feel like I have to – but we’re not necessarily thrilled with their selection.

And that’s the war, the writer’s war, the constant struggle between the urge to write and the dread that it won’t go well.

And war, as we know, is hell.

But writing isn’t hell, not always. Sometimes there are moments of pure glory, without which moments we’d certainly walk away, no matter how much have to we had inside. Those moments are the addiction condition of writing; they make us act like rats in a subtle and devious laboratory experiment: press bar, get treat. We don’t try to quit. We have no real desire to quit. We just want to keep pressing that bar and getting that treat.

And choice is the reason why.

Even though we may feel we have no choice but to write, we always get to exercise the choice of what to write. That’s the best part. That’s where the glory lives. That’s where the buzz lives – the buzz of having the pure power to choose. It’s a power that no editor, publisher, producer, partner, loved one, critic, boss, client or buyer can ever take away, not truly. You might modify your choices to serve other people’s needs, but ultimately it’s your brain driving your hands to bring your words to life.

Without you and your choices, it’s just an empty page. With you and your choices, it’s an exciting thrill ride. Or anyway it can be.

So recognize your power and own it from the start. Own the right to start stories you don’t finish. Own the authority to give birth to characters you later kill off. Own the initiative to try forms of writing you’ve never tried before. Own your control over the most basic issue:  What do I write right now? Above all, own your right to be wrong on the page. Be confident in knowing that choices improve as information improves – and that wrong choices lead to right choices in the end.

You get to choose. That’s what makes you a writer, and makes some other poor jlub a muffler installer instead. You choose; you discover and judge; you select. In sum, you create. By making choices.

The writer’s war is the struggle to make choices without going nuts.

The writer’s war is the struggle to make choices without going nuts. Without second guessing ourselves, annoying ourselves, stopping or subverting or diverting ourselves. If we succeed, then we communicate our thoughts in a meaningful way. If we fail…sigh…we try again, because we’re writers and we can’t stop writing. But even if we succeed, we…sigh…still try again, because we’re writers and whatever writing worlds we conquered last week just won’t seem to satisfy us next.

It could be a long war.

It’s best if it’s a fun war. One thing I’ve done lately to make the war more fun is just get out of my own way. I have discovered that a lot of the choices I make aren’t really my choices at all. They’re the choices I think I should be making, according to some vague understanding of what my unknown and unknowable audience’s expectations might be. And they conflict with the choices I want to be making, the ones guided by my characters’ desire, or new information revealed to me by inspiration, or just the delicious where the hell did that come from? sensation that informs the best part of my writing process. By getting out of my own way, I’m making a conscious effort to let my choices make themselves, rather than consciously guiding them for (spurious and often ill-considered) reasons of my own. I am determined to be a writer, not a marketing executive disguised as one. If nothing else, that makes my inner conflict go away and makes writing less of a struggle and more self-entertaining.

If something else, it gives rise to my true voice.

It has been said (by me – I’m saying it now) that the heart of the writer’s path is simply closing the gap between the writer I am and the writer I want to be. What steps or strategies do you use to close that gap – to deepen the understanding and pure joy you derive from fighting the writer’s war?


About John Vorhaus

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!