In January I'll begin collaborating with an array of prospective writers, publishing their stories in an anthology titled "Cicada Songs." Most of the contributors I've already started working with all share the same reservations- they aren't confident in their writing. It's a common ailment shared by the creative types (unless you're Uwe Boll), an insecurity in the art they create. Of course who can blame them? I certainly feel it each time a friend tells me they're about to crack open my book and give it a read. A thousand and one doubts flood my mind, especially when the person reading it is someone with a prodigious intellect, like my professors. When you put yourself out there, when you share a sliver of the thoughts roiling around your head, you're essentially giving the world a part of you. That means a personal part of yourself is out there, exposed to scrutiny and criticism. You've let your child out into the world and now have to helplessly watch what happens to it, good or bad. This scrutiny is what makes new writers and artists reluctant to even seek the spotlight. Countless complete drafts sit on shelves or are hidden away in desk drawers because their author is worried the world won't like what they have to say. The world won't like them. It's a fear of rejection.
It's a common sentiment I've had to deal with as I review the submissions for this anthology. Nearly every writer who's submitted a story apologizes for its faults, for it not being "good enough". So to you, the prospective writer, the up and coming, let me say that the biggest hurdle you have is to write a complete story. That's the real challenge. That's what separates a writer from someone who just writes. Once you've submitted a complete first draft the hardest part is behind us. The rest is now about refining what you've created. The ability to write something, beginning to end, is by far one of the rarest skills in the writing community. I'd rather have your faulty first draft than no draft at all. Sadly I've seen too many talented writers give into the trend of the lazy writer, making excuses for their incomplete work.
That last sentence brings me to my point. You see I follow a dozen or more pages on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) geared towards writing and writers, and one of the most irritating trends I observe on these pages is perpetuating this image of the lazy writer. What is the lazy writer? Well remember Jack Torrence in the shining (the movie version)? He'd sit there in front of his typewriter with no idea what he wanted to create. Nothing. A victim of writer's block. Today this image has mutated into the accepted norm. Writers, it seems, are always suffering from an endless bout of writer's block. Of course you'd be hard pressed to find any creative person who hasn't felt this way. Even Stephen king, who churns out books like a machine, has admitted suffering writer's block from time to time. Yet it's become this accepted normative part of the life and culture behind writers. If your'e going to be a writer people assume you're struggling to come up with ideas. They conjure up the image of a writer pacing a room filled with wads of discarded ideas while wearing a frustrated expression, waiting for their spark of genius. Pages like these promote this (false)image with memes about being distracted by the internet, making light of this malady. But worse are those who use quotes from famous and successful authors and poets to promote this unambitious mentality. Here's the image that kickstarted a debate about the issue:
Here's what I posted in response: "Nope. You're a writer the moment you finish something you start. If anyone who just writes is a writer then damn near everyone on this planet is a writer."
Of course I was immediately chastised for my opinion on the matter. Most of it, obviously, came from writers who had yet to finish a project. One woman was upset for spending 16 years researching her project and felt I was devaluing her efforts- though I'd argue that 16 years is a ridiculously long time to research your book. But despite her negative reaction and the reaction of others I stand by what I said because I will not tolerate unproductive people calling themselves a writer. When I say unproductive I mean anyone who has never completed a story, start to finish. It is an insult to the craft to simply accept these lazy writers because you cannot rush the creative process or because some just cannot seem to find the right idea they want to write about. As I said in my post, “You're a writer the moment you finish something you start.”
Now I'm going to brag because this is the one thing I can brag about. When my mentor and professor, Dr. Rafael Castillo (Palo Alto College), first discovered I had finished writing a book he took me aside and told me he was impressed by me. Keep in mind he had yet to read my book. What he was proud of, he explained, was my drive. He had come across students who wanted to be writers but had yet to meet any who not only finished a book, but one who had more coherently planned. Since then I have finished four books, one novella, one collection of short stories, and two novels (with another nearing completion). On top of that I have six other books planned for release in the immediate future, most of which are already plotted from start to finish. I work hard at my craft. I've poured in countless hours of reading and research into what i do. Not to mention the hours spent in college trying to improve and refine my skills. I've been writing since I was a kid, but I never considered myself an actual writer, an author, until i held the manuscript for my first book "Amaranthine." No I don't believe sales or being published makes you a writer. That's nothing but sprinkles on the cake. What makes a writer a writer, what separates us from the aspirants and wannabes, is the drive to start and finish a story. No other field allows you to quit, or worse, not even begin, something then claim a title you did not earn. If you don't start medical school or finish medical school you're not a doctor. Why is being a writer the exception? Some say because you cannot rush the creative process. True. But to that I say it shouldn't take years to produce something if you are indeed a creative person. Writing is, after all, storytelling. If you don't have a story then perhaps you should consider a different field.
Listen I'm rooting for the aspiring writer. Really and truly I am. The world needs more people who love and appreciate books enough to create their own. I think writing is cathartic and helps us deal with the things stirring in our heads. Storytelling is an essential and ancient part of the human experience. I'm constantly honored to share the title of writer with people like Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain. Shakespeare. Chaucer. I may not become as successful. My work may never be dissected in an American Literature course in a prestigious university by people smarter than myself. But I've joined their ranks nonetheless. I've left my immortal mark on the world. None of that would have happened if i quit or if I used excuses like my fear or lack of creative juices to keep me from writing my story, beginning to end. I'm tired of people calling themselves writers when they cannot write. And by “cannot write” I mean they cannot either come up with a story or put their story to paper. I mean that's what a writer does, despite agonizing periods of writer's block, despite being afraid the world won't like what you produce. A writer doesn't just write, a writer writes to completion. If you ever plan on being taken serious or want to be a full time writer, a goal I'm still aiming for, you have to produce. You have to set goals and take the task serious.
So let's promote creative ambition and perseverance. To you, the aspiring writer, be brave and ambitious. Don't wallow in years long writer's block or research. Push yourself. When you've lost the inspiration, find it. If its gone, never to return, then move on and tell another story. If you can't...well my friend you might not be a writer. In any case let's kill the image of the lazy writer and promote the image of the productive writer.