I got an email the other day from someone asking me how I wrote a novel.
He said, “I have been tip-toeing around the idea of writing a novel myself, but haven’t really had the guts to dive into it—it seems like such a daunting task! …How did you do it? And do you have any tips?”
I wrote back the best reply I could concoct at the moment. But honestly, writing that email felt as difficult as drafting the novel itself. I didn’t know what to say to him. I wasn’t sure what advice to give.
After some further investigation—Internet research as well as my own reflection—I’ve come to three no-bullshit rules for succeeding as a writer. They are not directives or action steps or instructions. This is not a “How-To.” Each one of these no-bullshit rules is something you need to have (or find) inside yourself.
First, Some Other People’s Advice on Writing
When you look at the advice out there on the Internet, much of it is confusing…. I’ve read articles that say you should write X number of words per day. Or write X number of pages per day. I’ve read articles that compare writing to an exercise routine. And yes, I get the consistency part of this comparison.
But if you liken writing to jogging on a treadmill for an hour (something you consider torture) then might I ask why the hell you want to be a writer? Where’s the passion? The balls? The love??
Maybe these sensibilities fall to the wayside now and again. They ebb and flow, just like other kinds of love and passion. But they should be there, somewhere, driving you forward….
Love, Tenacity, and Staying Power
Okay, I’ll get on with it. If you want to be a writer (as in someone who writes), and not just someone devising a routine, formulating a habit, or enduring a gauntlet of self-inflicted torture, here are the three no-bullshit things I think you need to have:
1. A Sheer Love for What You Do
I’ve quoted Steve Jobs on this blog or referred to his success at least a handful of times. This is because I think he was a brilliant and passionate entrepreneur who really “got it,” hence his immense success. So I’m going to quote him again—
In his 2005 commencement address to Stanford University, he said this of his being fired from Apple at the age of 30:
I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. …It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
…Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.
2. The Tenacity to Get Started
Starting to write can be the hardest part because of the thing called fear. And we’re often afraid of what we love most. We love it so much that we want it to be perfect. And we can’t imagine ending it because, when the love affair is over—what then?
So we procrastinate, we avoid it, or worse, we tell ourselves it’s not what we really want.
Think of it this way instead—you have a responsibility to your writing (if you truly love it) just like you do in a relationship. The responsibility is much like that surrounding any other object of love in your life. It requires thought, initiative, devotion, time, and vulnerability.
You have to overcome your fears, know that every love is a risk, and accept that every love has its flaws. The sooner you accept these truths and get past the idea of perfection, the sooner you can start putting words on the page.
3. The Power to Keep Going
Again, as with any love relationship, it takes work to keep the commitment going. It can be difficult to stay focused at times because you start to experience resistance.
Resistance is likely another effect of fear—the aversion to finishing something you’ve poured your heart into, only to be left having to start over again. But if you don’t allow your story to reach its end, you rob it of its full potential.
Love can be hard work, but you don’t give up on it if it’s real. You dig deep and make sacrifices. You compromise more and give more of your time. Eventually, you get stronger, you grow, your bond becomes more substantial…and you keep going.