How To Become A Real Writer
The greatest gift the Clarion workshop gave me is that it made me feel like A Real Writer for six weeks straight. That was the longest continuous period of feeling like a Real Writer I’ve ever had.
I say this today because of an absolutely beautiful post by Justine Larbalestier, which lists all the times when Justine knows she will have made it as a writer. Which is wonderful, heartbreaking, and true.
Truth is, I don’t feel much like a writer these days. Yes, I have this lovely Nebula nomination… but I also haven’t had a story accepted in four months despite having eleven stories darting from market to market. I haven’t written that much, because I’m mentally planning a novel and even though I’m creating characters in my head I’m not actually knocking words on the page. And my novel is still waiting, precipitously, for near-certain rejection by agents.
Yet I’m still doing pretty well. It’s just I have to look for evidence to remind myself of my Real Writerhood when I’m mapping out my next novel and realizing it’s too much for me and oh God I’m not sure I can do this. (And I think, honestly, that’s every novel for almost everyone.)
The thing that Justine’s post highlights so well is that it’s hard for many of us to feel like Real Writers because even the best writers keep getting evidence that we’re not Real. All those rejections and bad reviews hurt… And that’s part of the deal you took with this crazy career. Four months without a story sale? Heck, I’ve had nine-month dry periods. Jay Lake had ten years, for Chrissakes. We all have our deserts to cross.
The truth about being a Real Writer is that it’s not about paying attention to the external factors, which will never really set you free. You’re a Real Writer when you apply ass to seat, write, finish, and send it off for someone who might publish it. (Or if you’re a self-publisher, to a lot of people who might purchase it.)
All those other hallmarks Justine mentions? They’re temporary highs, fleeting triumphs that will make you feel confident and strong for a day or two. Then it fades. And you know why? If you’re a good writer, you’re always stretching, writing off more than you can chew because you know the only way to get better is to do new things. Constantly. And that means you don’t really have many moments where you go, “Yeah, I got this” because you’re always reaching out for greater emotional depth, better prose, more entanglement. You don’t feel confident because you’re brave enough to move beyond where you know and to boldly set out for What You Could Do If You Tried.
Then you send that new-as-scabs talent out for someone to potentially ignore, reject, and even hate. This is a brave thing. This is what makes you Real, even if you may not necessarily feel that Realness thrumming along your heartstrings.
But hey. If you’re writing regularly, and doing your best to get it out to an audience, I will tell you true: you’re a Real Writer. Take pride in that.
Now get back to work.