The way is long and there are no shortcuts. There are no tricks of the trade. There is no easy way out. When you sit down and begin to think about writing there is a certain amount of risk you are accepting, and this is the same risk that you assume no matter what craft you begin. If you one day awaken and see some odd piece of art in raw iron, begin to heat it, then beat it, and someday hope to forge your vision from this metal, you are assuming risk. It might not be there. It might not work. The vision may fail entirely. What you will be left with is not much less that what you began with, but it will be utterly too little for your Muse.
I can tell you for a certainty there isn’t another standard to be met. You may, or may not, be published, well liked, have lots of comments, be an internet sensation, or become rich and famous, but where the hammer meets the anvil, there is only one person on this earth that has to be truly happy with what you have written. We are not speaking here of being rich or having some wildly popular yet poorly written series of books sweeping a nation of barely literate pop culture fanatics. We are speaking of writing and what it means to the writer. We are speaking of the internal process of creation. We speak now only of what is in the brain of one human and how that matters to no one else but that one mind. Regardless of how your writing is accepted or rejected by those who read it you must in the beginning make some sort of peace with yourself as to what you are doing, how you will do it, and how you will come to the realization that what you have done, is.
Ever hear of a singer named Aimee Mann? Mann, along with her band ‘til Tuesday recorded a song titled “Voices Carry” in 1985 which became a huge hit. Mann had the vocals to pull off a successful run at pop music and for a band at that time things looked pretty good for her. But Mann couldn’t get along with her bandmates and she clashed with her record label. She soon became a sort of leper in the music industry, cut her rattail off, became a solo artist, and disappeared from the music scene except for those of us who still love her voice. Mann hasn’t put out an album since 2009. Her website is showing signs of cobwebbing. It may very well be that life on the road has taken its toll, and Aimee Mann is about to become part of music history, a footnote to the realm of one hit wonders. The only question I would ask of Aimee Mann is this one; “Is your Muse happy?”
I have no idea who wrote the “Twilight” series but I can tell you I could not give a damn less. Two pages deep into the mess I bailed out. I can tell you within the first paragraph if a writer is actually a writer and this was not it. I don’t care if the person who wrote that dreck becomes the richest person on earth. If this person’s Muse is happy with some one- dimensional repetitive cookie cutter pulp fiction for tweens that makes money that’s fine, too.
The difference between writing well and getting published is as different as having a relationship with someone you love and prostitution. I have met many a keyboard banger who thought the ability to come up with an idea with some dialog was enough to make them a writer, and perhaps that is how we wound up with “Twilight”. But we also have Justina Barbara wandering around sounding like a prepubescent Donny Osmond breathing helium in a full stadium while Aimee Mann is playing to a packed house of one hundred and twenty people. The first thing you will have to understand about writing is writing well isn’t about selling or selling out or settling. If you are looking for fortune and fame, writing isn’t an easy way to get it. It isn’t an easy way to get anything but frustration.
Because I write, and because some people like the way I write, and because I don’t have any formal education, I sometimes inspire people to begin writing. I’ve written many an email explaining to these people they aren’t writers simply because they like to read. Reading is a different skill than writing. You may be the best reader on earth but that doesn’t give you an ounce of credibility for being a writer. Being a reader is like riding a horse someone else has put the shoes on. You are not a blacksmith because you like riding horses. You do not breed or train horses because you like to ride, or because you are a great rider. This isn’t to say you cannot become a blacksmith, no. I’m just saying do not confuse the skills involved with one and the skills involved in the other.
Reading only helps you become a better writer if you read books written about writing, and even some of those are suspect. Anne Lemott’s “Bird By Bird” is likely one of the best places to start in reading about writing. Lemott pounds into shape the words she needs and loves and at the end of the day, she’s a wordsmith worthy of the effort she puts into it. There is real skill in this woman’s craft and you can almost see the metal glowing with passion and emotion. You can nearly hear her grunts of effort in her words, making them smooth and enduring with her strength. This is writing the way that it is supposed to be done when it is done write. When Lemott banks her fires and puts the tools away her work is finished, and the reader knows, truly knows, the job has been well done.
You have to know this of you, too, when you do it right.