Writers who don’t read or write aren’t uncommon. You find them in the overworked, under- caffeinated college student, in the exhausted stay-at-home mom. You’ll even find one in me, an editor for a college literary magazine. Writers who don’t read or write are perfectly common.
What isn’t common, are writers such as these, as myself, succeeding in a field we aren’t active in. The truth is, you might have valid reasons for not writing. You might be too busy, too stressed, or you simply might not know how to write creatively. Regardless of the inhibition, however, the fact remains that if you don’t find a way for yourself to participate in your field, you’ll never achieve anything in it. You’ll only be a writer in title.
For some, this is a hard reality to come to terms with. It was certainly a heartbreaking realization for me. But it’s an important one to have if you’re serious about a career in writing, because it will provide you with the stab of panic you need to get up and work.
I’m a perfect example of someone who is a writer by title alone. I enjoy the idea of writing, and did a healthy amount of it when I was young. But life got busy, and I had to make compromises regarding what would take up my free time. I’m a full-time student, and spend approximately 35 hours a week preparing for classes. I also have a part-time job, which has me working 20 hours a week. When I’m not doing homework or cashiering, I’m in class, either taking notes or half-listening while I work on homework for other classes. On weekends, I’m reviewing submissions for a literary magazine, and endeavoring to get ahead by doing assignments that aren’t due for another week. Apart from snatched hours of sleep and on-the-go meals in my car, it feels like I don’t do much else.
I feel anxious and afraid all the time. I don’t feel like I’m good enough. I feel like there’s always more I could be doing, like there’s always something I’m forgetting to do. Writing and reading don’t even factor into this equation anymore. I haven’t read a book of my own choosing in months. The last time I wrote a “poem” was in the break room at work on a sticky note, just three words that sounded nice together. I’ve had breakdowns and long nights where I lay awake and wonder if a writing career is even worth pursuing anymore.
I don’t have time to write, and that’s not entirely my fault. Everyone has unavoidable obligations, that’s the nature of life. But not all the blame can be turned away from me, because not all obligations are unavoidable. We might not realize it, but there are so many things we do in our spare time that contribute to this illusion that we have no time to write. Me, I like to sleep in. I listen to podcasts before class, and I unwind after work with hours of Netflix. These are rituals that help me get through my day, but there’s a hard line between self-care and being lazy, and that’s not always a boundary I’m respectful of. I delude myself into thinking I can afford a three-hour marathon of How I Met Your Mother, that I deserve it, even. The reality is, though, that these are all moments that I could be spending bettering myself a writer.
Even something as small as taking ten minutes to write a poem instead of spending ten minutes scrolling through Tumblr can amount to so much growth if we’re consistent. And if so little could amount to that much, imagine all the work we could produce if we took even bigger chunks of time to read and write.
There are always going to be those “writers” out there who drone on about all the famous actors they’ll have starring in the movie version of the novel they’re “working” on. But whenever you ask anything about the novel, they seem to deflate. They get defensive. And you realize that they’ve probably spent more time plotting the details of the movie than they have actually writing the book. These kinds of writers are the ones we risk becoming. The dreamers who get so caught up in future glory, they fail to recognize the importance of hard work in their present. And their lack of practice means that whatever they end up producing will be rejected within seconds of being handled by an editor.
I haven’t written a proper poem in months, which terrifies me, and rightfully so. Because whatever I currently produce will be low quality; it will be disappointing, poorly formed, and will not be accepted anywhere. I’m out of practice, and far behind my fellow poets in terms of skill and growth. This means if I’m serious about being published and making money off my passion, I need to work my ass off. I need to completely run my ass out of town with the amount of work I undertake. I should be reading craft books and the work of other poets. I should be writing a certain number of words every day, and I should learn how to acknowledge my compromised position as a writer, without letting my fear of failure overwhelm me.
Writers like us, we’re behind. There are thousands of other pedigree English majors out there who love the craft as much as we do, and who have been developing their skills every day for years. There are people out there who send their best pieces out en masse to literary journals, and who, in some cases, have already been published. They’ve taken editing internships, read craft books recommended by Stephen King. These people work hard, and some of them still never achieve the success they dream of.
So then, imagine how much work people like us have to put in.
It’s a scary thought, but there’s no hiding from it anymore. We’ve wasted our time making poor decisions and endless compromises, and now we aren’t likely to have fruitful careers, unless we cut the crap and throw ourselves into writing immediately. We have to wake up, sit down, and push harder than our creative writing professors ever did. We have to, because at this point in our literary careers, with so little experience and an ever-narrowing gap for success, that’s what it’s going to take.
To be bestselling, to be recognized, to be uncommon, that’s what it’s going to take.
— Olivia Brown