Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre’s Career Fair and Open House. They invited me to talk about “being a writer.” That thought alone landed in a weird place with me. Am I a writer? The word, in my mind, conjures an image of a guy with suede elbow patches on his corduroy jacket, hunched over his typewriter pecking away all day, every day, drinking endless cups of coffee and smoking countless cigarettes. He ventures out only for book signings, which he resents. His hair’s a mess. His desk is cluttered, his wastebasket overflowing. If his photo were not featured on the backs of his multitude of bestselling novels, no one would know what he looks like. His royalty cheques put him in the highest tax bracket, yet he lives in a dingy little apartment and his newest clothing is a pair of socks someone gave him five birthdays ago.
I am not that person.
Still, I managed to blather on about “being a writer” for a good 40 minutes before the break and another ten or so afterwards. And I noticed only one person dozing off.
So I thought I’d share with my readers a few things I shared with the folks gathered there. In a nutshell, here are five of the many things I’ve learned from writing.
1. If it’s important enough, you’ll make the time. I don’t buy it when people tell me “I’d like to write a book someday, if I can ever find the time.” I’m willing to bet that person never will find the time. Charles Buxton said “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” For me, this meant changing jobs. For someone else, it might mean turning off the TV, getting off Facebook, or just getting your bum into the chair and writing.
2. Nothing worth having comes easy. Writing is hard work. No one writes the next great novel without a ton of research, rewriting, and revising. Louis L’Amour said “If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”
3. Perseverance and tenacity are a must. All writers, even bestselling authors, experience rejection. It’s part of the game, but you can’t let it stop you. Author Gina Conroy said, “What keeps me going is the fear of missing out because I gave up too soon. It’s not easy to persevere through sweat and tears, but when I keep my mind on the goal and my heart attuned to my calling, then quitting isn’t an option.”
4. Humility makes you strong in the long run. I love the Snoopy cartoon where he’s sitting on his dog house, typing a letter: “Gentlemen. Regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me fifty thousand dollars.”
Rejection hurts. So does criticism. But both of these, when done constructively and honestly, can teach you more than any book or course.
5. Passion supersedes perception. I’ve learned I must write from my heart —the stories I feel most passionate about touch my readers the most.
Maybe writing isn’t your thing. I dare you to take whatever is “your thing” and relate these same five principles to it. I bet they apply.
You won’t find me taking up elbow patches any time soon, or cigarettes EVER. But by God’s grace, I’ll still be pounding away at the keys and learning more about writing for another twenty-five years or more. Isaac Asimov said, “If my doctor told me I had only six months to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type faster.”