It’s hard to know sometimes (often, perhaps) if online articles are sincere or if they’ve been skewed for clickbait.
That’s what I thought when I saw Stephen Hunter’s article for the Daily Beast, “If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now”((Please google it, I don’t wish to link to it.)) (which I read in my mind to the tune of Manic Street Preachers’ “If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next”). He’s a Pulitzer-prize winning writer, ffs! (Not that I’ve ever heard of him, but that’s by the by((He sure as hell won’t have heard of me.))). He’s a WRITER. He’s an AUTHOR! He sits atop a column, and when he wants to feel superior (which going from his article, appears to be fairly often), he will gaze down on the lowly would-be scribblers below.
Write every day, he says. Or just don’t bother.
Now – there’s plenty enough wrong with such a statement. Yes, I take the point that writing regularly, like playing an instrument, is how you’ll hone your craft. But every day? Some people can’t write everyday – life gets in the way. A full-time job, studying, family, going outside the house sometimes (and changing out of pyjamas). Sometimes health gets in the way, sometimes you have days when you just can’t write.
This happens to me. I’ll think, I must spend this evening writing, and I won’t. I’ll fiddle about, never quite finding the word I need that will start me off. But then, the next evening, I will write. And words will come out of me in such torrents that I’m writing with my notepad by the hob as I cook the dinner. My words are garlanded with mashed potato.
That’s just how I am. I don’t feel guilty about it, I don’t read Mr Pulitzer-prize’s article and think Holy crap, there must be something fundamentally wrong with me! I’m not really a writer at all! I am now thoroughly discouraged and must give up at once. But it concerns me that some people may well feel that and throw down their pencils. Forever.
Sod that, and sod his article.
And especially sod his dreadful attitude towards other authors.
Writers I know on Twitter have rightly been pointing out that this “write everyday or give up” business is a load of claptrap. But what particularly grates – for me – is his sneery view of other writers.
In order to publish [my novel], it has to be better than [those of other people starting to write a novel on the same day as he does]. So, forgive me—I pretty much hate them.
I will beat them all, however, and I will do it on one strength they lack, the poor, good-looking devils.
I will finish and they will not.
I read this with my jaw banging against my desk. Every writer I’ve ever met has been gracious and encouraging and kind to other writers. Even if Hunter’s comments are meant in a half-joshing manner (I’m not too sure though), I take great objection to his envy and Schadenfreude.
My own experience of meeting other authors has been almost entirely positive. The only other people on Earth who understand what writing is like are other writers. We stick together. We commiserate rejections, we celebrate triumphs. We are a community.
When I first met up with authors, I was actually terrified. I thought they’d all be haughty, that they had discovered a magic formula which they would cling to at all costs. Their haughtiness kept that magic a secret, an invisible wall around the border of Being A Writer.
But those were not the people I encountered: perhaps because I had not encountered Stephen Hunter.
There are two things, then:
- There is no magic formula. Do whatever works for you. Don’t be put off writing because your words don’t spurt forth in the same way as another’s do. If the words end up being written, and they’re good words, then… who cares how it got there? Took the motorway, or the scenic route? Hopped on a train? Walked in stout shoes? Puffed through the skies in a hot air balloon? Great. You got there in the end.
- Find the nice writers who will support and encourage you. We exist, they exist, I promise you.