Several years ago, I spent a year studying creative and non-fiction writing in a popular Dublin workshop.
The tutor was a burnt-out, disillusioned and exceptionally talented writer who demanded to know why we had joined his class.
One student said, “I’m here because I want to get rich.”
He wasn’t joking.
The tutor took this student aside and gave him his money back.
Writing isn’t a shortcut to celebrity or riches.
If that’s your goal, you will find rewards far quicker by concentrating on other professions. There’s some truth in the stereotypical image of a penniless and starving writer. I’m not suggesting writers should starve, but you must feel passionate about your work.
If you are passionate about your work, this passion will sustain you when others criticise and reject you. This passion will drive you when you’re struggling to make money from your words. And if you are passionate enough, you will keep seeking ways to improve even when you’re exhausted, frustrated and broken.
If, on the other hand, you’re not passionate about your writing, then why should your readers care?
Write for yourself first
Write something that you enjoy reading and write something that makes you regard a page of wet ink (or a screen of pixels), a page you filled, with pride.
Use the life of J.D. Salinger as an example.
J.D. Salinger — not one for the public gaze
After the success of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger withdrew from public view. In 1953, two years after the publication of his famous book, Salinger left New York and moved to a remote, 90-acre place in Cornish, New Hampshire.
There, he withdrew from public gaze. He continued to write, but this time for himself, and some of these stories were only published after his death in 2010.
Others remain unpublished.
Salinger loved what he did, and he didn’t care if people read his works.
But, what if you want people to read your works?
I once coached a non-fiction writer about how he could focus on his work and write 1,000 words a day. We talked about how he could use a productivity strategy to eliminate distractions and increase his daily word count. And we discussed why separating writing and self-editing makes sense for anyone who wants to finish writing what they started.
I think the writer was happy with how our coaching call went because afterwards he emailed me to say thanks.
At the bottom of his email he wrote:
“The other helpful thing was the sense of legitimacy as a writer I got from talking with you.”
I was happy to get positive feedback like this (I’m human after all!) and to know I was able to help him in some small way.
But, something didn’t sit right with me.
The more I thought about our conversation, the more I realised I’d missed an important point.
This writer was already doing his most important work before he had ever talked to me.
He is well on his way.
If you wrote today, you are too.
Whatever type of writer you are, you don’t need validation from me or anyone else to call yourself a writer or to feel like what you are doing is worthwhile.
If you have the guts to turn up every day, to sit down in the chair and do the hard work of putting one word after another onto the blank page even when you know what you’re saying may not be any good, then you are a writer.
Don’t ask for permission.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you’re doing is worthwhile.
And don’t do it for the money (but always make sure you get paid).
I spent most of my early twenties looking for validation from accomplished writers and professional editors.
I paid for writing courses and I made a point of getting closer to editors who I knew were better than I.
Sometimes I got the validation I was after, but more often than not I didn’t.
Either way, I still had to sit down in front of the blank page alone, get the words down and figure out a way to get better.
Go read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Every day, I try to do what writers like Natalie Goldberg recommend:
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
I still feel like giving up some days.
I almost gave up last week.
I’m still trying to figure out this strange job of ours.
Writing is often a lonely craft and it sometimes helps to talk to other writers about a problem you’re having on the blank page.
Yes, it’s great to be recognised and for someone to say your work is good.
We all need feedback and support to overcome our problems from time to time. The importance of critical feedback is why productive writers have or hire editors!
I love getting comments and emails from readers who have opinions and even nice things to say about my work.
I keep them in a file in my computer and re-read them when I feel like quitting.
I’d like to tell you I don’t feel like quitting very often, but I’d be lying.
These comments and emails keep me going when I want to stop. And I must keep on putting one word after another because this is what we do.
If you take one idea away from this book, it’s this:
To become a productive writer, turn up for, write and go after what you want day after day.
Even if you win the lotto tomorrow, and your money worries disappear, even if you’re the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, sit down and do your most important work.
Do it because there’s an ache inside you that only writing can soothe.
Do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Do it because to write is to create and to create is to live.
Anything else isn’t an option.
Did you enjoy this post? Please recommend to your followers.
I’ve also put together 101 proven writing prompts that will help you start writing articles for Medium and other sites today.