I just want to meet real writers. Writers of serious intent.
Them’s fightin’ words, but I stand by them.
What do I mean by “real” writers? Well, it’s simple. Writers write. Do you want to be a writer? Do you write? Voilà. That’s you. Saying you want to be a published author is easy. Putting in the time to sit at your desk and muddle your way through a first draft is unbearably hard. If you dare to tell someone that this is how you spend your time, buckle up my friend, because you’re in for a wild ride. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what it means and how it should be done.
That relative who wants to know where your novel is already? Smile and nod. The Cocktail Party Braggart who wants you to know that he could write a book—even though he doesn’t write—comes in many guises and there’s really nothing you can do other than smile and nod. Smile and nod is going to be your friend. Even though our cocktail-party-mingling days are on a semi-permanent hiatus, this guy is everywhere. Even worse is his snide pal who holds you in contempt for even trying. Just last week, I immediately swiped left on a Bumble guy who openly declared that “Writer is just another name for chômage.” That’s right—chômage as in unemployment. Goodbye, sir.
What’s the difference between you and these naysayers? You’re writing. That’s what counts. Even if it feels painful and embarrassing. Even if it feels like you’ll never finish. If you keep going, you will. Let’s be real: writing is really hard. It’s a constant tug of war between believing your story deserves to be told and crippling self-doubt that makes you wonder who told you were good at this anyway…
“Inspirational” quotes aren’t usually my thing, but this one always lifts my spirits when things begin to look dire:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap.
For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.
And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work—they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that. And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap.”Ira Glass
In my experience, that tracks. First drafts are called that for a reason, but you certainly won’t be publishing a book if you don’t sit down and write one. Or maybe even several. As someone who struggles with perfectionism, it certainly doesn’t help that I professionally critique other people’s novels. You could say I’m all too aware of my taste gap. “What am I even doing with my life?” I bemoan to Catsby as I finish yet another brilliant galley. Still, I make my way to my laptop, close all of the fun tabs, and try to drown out the vile, poisonous commentary coming from my inner critic as I try to get my character from Point A to Point B.
Seriously? You’re using that verb? my critic hisses. Are you kidding me? Joan Didion would never use that verb.
Armed with an imaginary broomstick, I chase my critic away from the desk and out into the garden where she belongs. Don’t worry—I’m not a sadist. There are stacks of books and fragrant rose bushes out there. Even a pot of tea and a plate of scones and jam to enjoy while she waits until I’m done! I just want a little peace as I gather the courage to put words on the page before she inevitably slips back in to read over my shoulder.
Since graduating from my BFA program in 2014, my writing life has been mostly a solo endeavor. In my search for kindred spirits over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered some warm and wonderful communities online and some accountability groups worth their weight in gold.
Chelsea Hodson’s Finish What You Start is the holy grail of accountability groups, if you ask me. There are a lot of people online looking to take your money, but Chelsea actually delivers on her promises. I was in the muddy middle of my novel and I’d promised myself that this was the Year of Finishing—even if I knew I’d be editing in January! Over the course of eight weeks, we corresponded via email about my process: what was working, what was falling apart, and how to keep going. Just knowing that she was there, waiting for my email, encouraged me to keep typing. Plus, she writes a pretty stellar weekly lesson newsletter to boot.
If you miss the low-key pressure of being surrounded by other people who are working, the London Writers’ Salon hosts free, daily writing sessions that you’ll love. Writers’ Hour takes place Monday-Friday on Zoom at 8am in four different time zones. Knowing I’ll have 50 focused minutes of writing time helps me tune out distractions and get my work done. You can keep your camera on for a little extra camaraderie or stay incognito, but I promise this is one writing group you won’t want to miss.
And are you following Jami Attenberg yet?! Do it now. Jami Attenberg is so cool. Not only does she run Craft Talk, a thoughtful newsletter about writing and creativity, but she also dreamed up #1000WordsOfSummer, a two-week sprint where you commit to writing 1,000 words a day. That’s right—by the time you’re done, you’ll have 14,000 words of your project on the page. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
For now, that’s what’s working for me. Do you have a favorite online writing community? Let me know. I’d love to check it out.
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