talking about writing does not an author make

Have you noticed how great it feels to talk about the work you’re doing? It’s great to be the writer in your social group. No one asks accountants how their latest project is faring and then listens to the response with bated breath. (Sorry, accountants.) There’s a certain amount of glamour to having your friends ask you about your latest novel, and talking writing theory with other writers can be thrilling and enlightening. Talking about writing feels good. 

And as good as talking about writing can feel, writing itself can feel even better. There’s a thrill that occurs when someone responds positively to your writing–and there’s a special feeling of pride and accomplishment that’s reserved for those moments where you realize you’ve perfected that turn of phrase or really nailed the last sentence in a chapter. The small blip of happiness you get from talking about writing is nothing in comparison to the soul-opening joy of being enamored with something that you have created.

But as good as writing can feel–sometimes, it’s the worst. You can’t get the words. The words you do get suck. You’re confused, your character’s confused, and you’re probably convinced you’re a fraud. You’ve sat down three evenings in a row trying to write and have nothing to show for it. It’s midnight, and your paper’s not done. There is no worse writing-related feeling than staring at that blinking cursor, knowing you have nothing to say.

And the thing is: you never know which experience you’re going to have. Some days are shitty and tragic and, when you finally get an hour to put pen to paper, the words flow like a balm, straight from your creative center. Some days are joyous, and each word tortures you as it leaves–small, fragile, and wreathed in glass. The process of writing is fickle and frustrating and mercurial and you never know, before you sit down and start to write, which experience you’re going to have.

Because of this inability to anticipate the outcome of each writing session, there is this juicy temptation to talk about writing instead of actually writing. Do you notice this tendency in yourself? It’s so easy to trade in the potential for soul-opening joy when soul-crushing despair is on the line (especially when the alternative–talking about writing–feels pretty good).

The thing that is so dangerous about this phenomenon is that it allows you to enjoy a certain amount of pleasurable positive feedback without actually doing any work. You talk about signing up for NaNoWriMo with your friends, and they’re impressed with you–whether or not you book is finished. (Or even started…right?) You sit down with your writing group and talk out your recent plot roadblock, and it feels like you’ve accomplished something, even though you haven’t changed anything in your manuscript. The work isn’t finished, and yet you feel good about yourself. 

And even though you know that it’s so much better to actually do the work and write the story, it’s so easy to settle for that blip of feeling good. And that’s where things get ratty: talking about writing does not an author make. No amount of tweets about writing and no amount of conversations about the perils of self-publishing can ever stand in for the author-making process of actually writing a book.

And so, if you want to be a writer (and not just talk about being a writer) you have to be diligent with yourself. Don’t allow yourself to settle for the small bit of happiness when you can be the creator of worlds and purveyor of information. Don’t allow the fear of a bad writing session keep you from sitting down in front of your implement of choice and writing as much as you possibly can. The thing is, you can do it. You can get through the bad days and glory in the good ones. You can write a book.

You just have to sit down and write.

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