It’s such a staple of writing advice that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint where the quote comes from. When you start looking into writing quotes and statements, every successful author seems to have written some variation on the theme. Writers write. They don’t talk about writing, or think about writing, or wish they’d written — they write.
It’s simple, straightforward, and unarguable.
Someone who thinks about writing, or talks about writing, or wishes they were writing isn’t, well, writing. So they’re not a writer.
The trouble with general advice is that there’s no nuance; no context. What does “writers write” actually mean, in the bigger picture of life?
Writers write every day?
Writers write at least a few times a week?
Writers write when they can find the time?
A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper. — E.B. White
If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter. — Dan Poynter
Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. — Louis L’Amour
All of these seems to be variations on the same theme. Writers write.
So what happens when life circumstances are such that, for reasons beyond your control, you can’t write?
Isn’t it all about priorities?
I’m the first to step up and admit that I’ve played the priorities card in the past. We all have the same number of hours in our day and week, so if you’re having trouble finding time to write, it must mean you’re not prioritising your writing.
Stop watching TV!
Write while you’re waiting!
Don’t worry so much about the housework!
There are a million glib suggestions out there for how to make more time for writing in your life. And they can be good suggestions. Sometimes those suggestions are exactly the things you need to hear to find a way to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys. But sometimes they’re not.
What I’ve come to realise is that there’s a certain level of privilege underlying the idea that if people just prioritised better, they’d be able to find time to devote to their writing, or their art, or whatever their passion may be.
Sure, if you’re spending four hours every evening binge-watching Netflix while simultaneously complaining about not having time to devote to your latest novel, you probably need to look at your priorities. But what about those people working multiple jobs to put food on the table for their families? What about those people working fulltime hours and acting as an unpaid carer for a family member? What about those people with seriously ill family members — or who are seriously ill themselves?
You can’t simply prioritise your way out of financial and emotional difficulties. You can’t prioritise your way past grief, or through illness.
But if writers don’t write…
There are times in our lives when we simply don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional space to write fiction; or possibly to write at all. And it’s times like these when I feel like this simple, straightforward, and unarguable advice can do more harm than good.
When we’re struggling through the boggy marsh of pain and anguish, the last thing we need is to be guilt-tripping ourselves over not being real writers. I’ve known people to beat themselves up over not being a “real” writer because they haven’t written while their partner is undergoing chemotherapy, or because they’re working eighteen hour days, or because their child is seriously ill.
I’ve done it myself.
An electrician doesn’t stop being an electrician because they’re in hospital with appendicitis.
A football player doesn’t stop being a football player in the off-season.
An accountant isn’t less of an accountant on vacation.
Generic advice is generic
To my way of thinking, this advice is really aimed at those people who have been talking for years about one day wanting to be a writer, but who haven’t started writing anything yet despite having the time, emotional space, and capacity to do so. But far too often, it’s thrown around like a qualification that must be met every day.
I think we need to give ourselves a break; to stop feeling guilty when life events conspire to overwhelm us. You are not less of a writer when you take time off to care for yourself or your family.
But not at the expense of their own well-bring.
Have you ever guilt-tripped yourself for not writing? How do you feel about this advice?
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