Writing Craft: I’m seventeen and not a famous writer yet.
I’m despondent. I’m afraid of losing my passion. Should I give up?
Are you ready for some tough love? Writing isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.
No, that’s still not an accurate representation of your efforts when you’re a writer. It’s more like an Ironman Triathlon.
An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by theWorld Triathlon Corporation (WTC) consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break.
Oh, and you get a time limit of about 17 hours…
Yes. That about sums up the writing experience. Where you are, young padawan is still in the training stages for your Iron Man. You haven’t even started the race.
I know it’s hard to hear. 200,000 words is a great deal of writing and I know every word was likely hard won. You struggled to put them down and think now that you are done, why hasn’t the world flocked to your door to acknowledge your genius?
Because, as the saying goes: There are still dues to pay.
The writing community varies on exactly how much writing one must do before you become “good enough” but many will agree it takes about 1,000,000 original words of your own, before you begin to develop a degree of craft sufficient to call yourself a fully realized writer.
Don’t get me wrong. You are writing ergo, you are, in fact, a writer. I don’t subscribe to that “aspiring writer” crap. If you are daring enough to turn your thoughts into words and then put those thoughts on to paper (electronic or otherwise) you get to call yourself a writer and not have to mince words about it.
The question is: How and when do you become a ‘good’ writer?
- A good writer reads from a diverse range of books. From as many genres as they can, from as many diverse fields as they are able to find the time to learn about. Writing isn’t just about putting words on the page, they are about extending the range of both the writer’s experiences and the reader’s.
- A good writer learns from what they read. The research required for good writing expands the mind of the writer as well as the reader. The act of transcribing knowledge in an entertaining form is the secret art of writing. You are teaching without a classroom, you are sharing what you learned in way where the reader is as fascinated with the topic as you were while you learned it.
- A good writer gets further training (school, teachers, editors, writing courses, writing groups). As often as we hear about the self-taught writer, I am an advocate of learning the craft of writing, learning about the art of writing, learning about the techniques and rules of good writing and then learning how to subvert those rules EFFECTIVELY. Some of this you can intuit on your own. Much of it, you can only learn from someone who has immersed themselves in writing at a level, you have yet to reach.
- A good writer hones their craft BY WRITING. Writing as much and as often as their schedule allows. I am an advocate of the three pages a day or a short story a day club for early writers. Trying to push too hard can be the same as when you exercise past the point of good sense. You hurt yourself and then you become discouraged because of the pain. But you have to write to get better. You have to practice that beginning, middle and ending to stories because the longer your stories get, the harder each of those sections will become. Short stories are great practice for working your way thorough those necessary lessons.
- A good writer remembers to pace themselves. Pacing oneself only aids in building good mental muscles developed for writing. Having a space for writing, having cleared time for writing, creating rituals for writing, these things can aid you in achieving the mental state necessary to write effectively, consistently, so that you can reach your goal of prominence in your endeavor.
Writing as Work
Do not be mistaken. Writing is Work. Hard work. Creating something from nothing is just as difficult as creating a chair from a pile of wood. To make a poorly made chair takes no craft at all. But to create a chair which is functional takes greater knowledge, better tools and more care and to create a chair which is both beautiful, durable, and function takes a craftsman of unique skills, honed by consistent, diligent and enthusiastic practice.
You are seventeen. Not only do you have plenty of time to write and plenty of opportunity for fame, but you should expect that being good at anything will take more time. Time for you to grow as a person, time for you to experience all that life has to offer, time for you to endure both love an heartache at a level you may not have experienced yet.
Time is your ally. And your enemy. Why? Because when you take the time to write, you must concede your efforts need be good. Because you will be taking someone else’s most precious, non-renewable resource, time, and having them spend it on your work.
If they feel their time was wasted, they may never return to you or your work, even if you improve in the future. Thus time need be spent improving your craft regularly so that when you say to someone “read my work and tell me what you think” they’ll be willing to make that effort more than once, giving up time they could have spent walking their dog, being with their friends, taking care of a loved one, or some other thing they hold dear.
As a writer, you have the rare distinction of competing against a world filled with distractions, and trying to use the humble word to visualize a world as yet unseen by your reader.
You are taking nothing but words and creating a reality, for a time, for a person who does not know you. They must trust you. They must be willing to take this trip with you. And it must in the end, satisfy them that they spent this time well. This is the hardest work possible, bar none.
Writing is hard work and disillusionment with the craft is actually part and parcel of the career. Most writers experience it, even those who have achieved levels of fame and glory while they lived.
If you read a bit of history, you will find there are many celebrated writers today, who did not enjoy any celebrity while they lived. They created, they toiled, the wrote, they believed, they lived and they died relatively unknown and unacknowledged. But their creations live on today, in some cases as iconic representations of the Human spirit.
As for your aspirations for recognition or fame… If you are a writer, fame is not the goal. Fame is a side-effect.
The passion to write must be yours alone. It must be a fire burning within you, an insistent, unquenchable belief that you have something to say worth hearing across the vast echoes of time and space, a belief that you will touch something in the heart of those who connect with your book, some quiet, private place they thought only they knew of its very existence, and that only you can say it with the authenticity necessary for such a fantastic tale to be heard, let alone believed.
No one else can kindle that passion over the long haul. Over those cold windy nights when its just you, the howl of the wolves and the sighing of the desert to keep you company. No one will be there to sustain it when you run through that burning forest of your doubt, watching your friendships dwindle, your connections momentarily lost in the madness of your creative fires.
The passion is yours alone, the great burden, the buoyant artifact, the construct which must power your creations, great and small, terrible and triumphant, the passion which passes into your works…that is your greatest contribution and no one can carry that flame but you.
Know that it cannot be extinguished, it cannot be subdued, it cannot be relinquished, it cannot be forsaken, it cannot be lost for it is always with you. It is indomitable. It has no greater force. Nothing can stop it save one thing you bear close to you. It lives within you; from the first time you understood the world was sharp, when you learned the world could hurt you, when your parents stopped protecting you from every little hurt and remembered you needed to know there was danger in the world.
The very first time you were conscious of a decision and hesitated before you did it.
There is no more insidious force, no more invasive predator, no more pernicious impediment, hiding always in plain sight, yet never able to be just put aside and forgotten for very long, it always returns to your desk, unbidden, an internal gadfly, ready to plague you lest you forget he exists.
Master your doubt, learn the craft of writing and you will be capable of achieving the goal.
The goal is to write a compelling story which has the reader transported to the world of your creation. And then makes them seek you out again for another trip to your imaginarium.
Build an imaginarium worth visiting, create worlds where people can see themselves, envision themselves as the heroes and villains of your works (hey, some people like being the villain…); you must realize this is difficult work, worthy of time, dedication and a great deal of persistence.
Build a lasting and meaningful work and recognition will be the least of your rewards.
More Tough Love for Writers
- What should you do if you have an idea for a novel, with everything planned, but can’t seem to write it?
- Are drugs essential to the creative process?
- Writing Craft: How can an aspiring young writer make a name for himself?
Article first appeared on Quora: How do I become passionate about writing once again?
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous online magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, The Enemy, Panel & Frame, Science X, Loud Journal, ComicsBeat.com, Coffeelicious and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale.
Thaddeus is a popular and well-read writer on the Q&A site Quora.com in over fifty various subjects. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
He is an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium.com, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here. He also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on Medium.