I’ve given a lot of advice on how to be a writer over the years, but today I’m going to give my absolute top bit of advice on how not to be a writer. All you need is one single thought, a basic assumption that you build your future on. That single dangerous thought is this: When I’m a writer, I’ll finally have time to write.
I used to firmly believe this. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I had a job I hated, and I told myself I could be a writer if only I had the time. So, I paid off all my debts, saved a little money, and quit my day job. And, I did write… some. A little. I tried to find the discipline to write every day, but, looking back, even though I was without a day job for the better part of a year, very little of the writing I did during that time amounted to anything. I made a few story sales to markets that paid in copies. Eventually, the money ran out, and I went back to work.
I didn’t hate my new job as much as my old job, but I still wanted to make it big as a writer and quit. I’d squeeze out a short story every few months, always dreaming of the day I’d have the time to really write. Then, I had a second chance to ride the “time to write” pony when I attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writer’s Workshop. My work agreed to let me take off the six weeks for the class, and my wife at the time covered all the bills and was generally a trooper. I went to the Workshop feeling like I’d have all the time in the world. After all, classes were just a few hours each morning. The vast bulk of the day was free time, far from home, without distractions. Six glorious weeks immersed in writing to produce… precious little. A few deeply flawed stories. I went home certain I’d failed; I wasn’t a writer. I’d had my best possible shot, and hadn’t written a thing worth reading.
Back home, my life got more complicated as I took on new responsibilities on my job. I bought a house and suddenly had yard work and maintenance to deal with. I had less free time than ever. Whereas before Odyssey, I’d make a point of setting aside whole evenings to write, I now had to write in little bits and fragments. I used to get together with friends every Friday night to play video games; I didn’t want to miss their company, so I started taking my laptop and writing while they played, then join them when they took smoke breaks. Everything I had in my head about the proper conditions for writing told me I should be alone in a quiet room with unbroken, dedicated blocks of time before me. Now I was writing in the barest scraps of time, in the moments in between and on the way to the rest of my life.
And from these time scraps came Nobody Gets the Girl, and Empire of Dreams and Miracles, and To the East a Bright Star, and a dozen other stories I consider my prime work.
It’s almost a cliché to say that as you age, it feels like the days get shorter. But, I swear, my own personal experience confirms the cliché. Subjectively, I feel like I have half the hours in a day that I used to have when I was 40, and back then I had half the hours in a day I had when I as 30, and I can’t even remember how I filled all the hours of my seemingly endless free time when I was twenty. The future never holds more time. Not only are the hours of my life ticking down like a clock on a bomb, the clock hands are moving faster and faster, until they’re just a blur. Hell, I woke up this morning a whole hour from my life had vanished while I was sleeping!*
If you’re waiting until you have the time to be a writer to start writing, I pity the unborn characters and worlds within you. If the thought “when I am a writer” ever enters your thoughts, get rid of it. Shoot it, bludgeon it, cut it out; employ the violent metaphor of your choice to remove that phrase, because it’s utterly poisonous, the most dark and wicked viper crawling around in your skull. The thought you need is “always I am a writer.” And then you should $#%&ing write something, you procrastinating fool.
*The day after daylight savings robs you of an hour is a good day for a rant such as this.