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Do You Really Want to Be a Writer?

When people ask what I do and I say I’m a novel editor, they tell me they’d love to write a book some day, once the kids are grown up, when they have more time, or if only they were good enough.

Some people have already given up trying. They say, ‘I suppose if I really wanted to write I’d have done it by now.’

But that’s just another excuse. That argument assumes we all fall naturally into what we want to do, when in fact it’s much more natural to find an excuse not to do it.

We all makes excuses. It’s a part of what we do. And the first step to making a commitment to finally writing that book is to recognize the excuses and to stop them getting in the way of your dreams.

Writing is an adventure

Inventing excuses is your mind’s way of protecting you, from keeping you from taking risks or using up too much precious energy. In evolutionary terms, that makes sense, but the excuses your mind invents can also keep you from enjoying some of life’s greatest adventures, of which writing a book is surely one.

Writing a book can be a hugely rewarding experience full of discovery (of your characters and yourself), creativity and imagination. You can someday experience the thrill of seeing your name in print, and it can even – if you’re talented, hard-working and can find a touch of luck – lead to fame and fortune.

In fact, many people are inspired to write by well-known authors, those who have already made the journey. The life of a published author is an appealing one to many people. They see it as days of daydreaming in a picturesque cottage, dressed in pajamas, intermittently hammering out perfect prose when the muse strikes.

In other words, many people like the idea of being an author but they might not like the reality of that life.

Writing a novel takes a lot of time, and that’s time you could be using to pursue other things that are important in your life. It takes commitment as you need to sit down and write regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. You will suffer rejection and even harsh criticism from strangers and possibly even friends and family too.

And some of those excuses might be legitimate reasons why you can’t write.

Maybe you really want a yacht, or to finally become regional manager, or to pay off the mortgage on your house, then working a 60-hour week to achieve that won’t leave a lot of time to write a book.

Maybe your parents are getting frail and need more care, or your children are struggling at school and could use some extra attention right now, or you’re having problems in the relationship with your partner, then taking precious hours out of your day to write a book won’t be a priority for you.

Or maybe you’d rather concentrate on learning to play piano, or getting a great physique, building your own company or any one of a million other goals. Then great. Go for it. Just make sure you’re doing what you really want to do and not avoiding your true goals by pursuing something else.

Test your commitment to writing

So how can you tell the difference between an excuse and a legitimate reason? How can you tell if you are someone who loves the idea of being an author with someone who really wants to be an author? There is one simple question that can help.

Whatever your dream, there is one question you should ask yourself before committing to it. For potential authors, it’s the one question that will find out if you really have what it takes to write a book. Answering this one question honestly will help you determine whether you genuinely want to be a writer or if you simply enjoy the idea of being a writer:

Are you prepared to suffer?

The idea of the tortured author might be clichéd, but writing a novel takes a lot of painstaking work.

You will have to give up precious time with your family and friends to write a book that maybe no‑one will ever want to read. And if anyone does read it, they might hate it and tell you so and tell you that you cannot write, that this goal you’ve been pursuing for months, maybe even years, has been pure fantasy.

You will have to commit to writing regularly, ideally every day, including your birthday, your children’s birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s and any other hungover, flu-filled, team-in-the-finals or just a regular can’t-be-bothered day. If you balk at the thought of having to write on any of those days, then maybe you don’t really want to be a writer.

As George Orwell said, ‘Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’

If writing is what you really want to do and you’re prepared to go through that struggle, then now is the time to make that commitment to write, and if you really are prepared to suffer then it will be so much easier to keep that commitment.

What kind of excuses get in the way of your writing? How do you overcome them? How do you maintain your commitment to writing? How do you suffer for your writing? And what makes it all worth it?

About Jim Dempsey [1]

Jim Dempsey (he/him) is a book editor who specializes in detailed analysis and editing of novel manuscripts through his company, Novel Gazing [2]. He has worked as an editor for more than 20 years. He has a master’s degree in creative writing and is a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading [3] and is a trustee of the Arkbound Foundation [4]. Jim is fascinated by the similarities between fiction and psychotherapy, since both investigate the human condition, the things that make us uniquely human. He explores this at The Fiction Therapist [5] website. If you have a specific concern with your novel, send an email to jim [at] thefictiontherapist.com, or visit the website to ask for a free sample edit. You can follow Jim on Instagram @the_fiction_therapist [6].