It’s sort of a funny thing, being a writer. Tell people you’ve written a book, and they immediately think you’re a) rich, b) rich and famous, or c) going to be rich and famous (and able to help them find a publisher for their book, still to-be-written, of course).
But mostly, they seem to think you work some kind of voodoo magic. Spinning stories out of thin air. Casting them off into the world without blinking an eye. Case in point, a conversation I had recently with a good friend who is a commercial pilot.
Pilot friend: So how do you do it?
Me: Do what?
PF: You know. Write. What’s a typical day like for you?
Me: Well, I get up in the morning, have my coffee, walk the dog. Then I sit down with my laptop and write. Then I usually have lunch. And hit the gym. And then I write some more, even if I don’t really feel like it. Especially if I’m on deadline.
PF: Huh. That’s not at all what I pictured. No coffee shops? No writer’s groups with everyone wearing black and sipping espressos? No shots of whiskey?
Me: No. Coffee shops are distracting. And you know I like bright colors. Mochas with whipped cream. And wine. Preferably the sparkling kind.
PF: Laughs. Well, I still don’t know how you do it. I could never do that. Just sit down and write a book.
Me: Yeah? And I could never just step into a cockpit and fly a plane, either.
And that’s the thing — somehow there’s this strange myth that if you’re really, truly a Real, True Writer all you need to do take pen to paper and the words will flow, like magic. Yeah, right. Sure, some people are born with an innate talent for writing. Just like some have an innate talent for science or all things mechanical. But who on earth would expect (or want!) a pilot that flew on “innate talent” alone? Or a surgeon who just had a gut feeling where to find the appendix? (Unless, of course, he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, in which case your book signing is safe.)
In my mind, writing is no different. If we want to be any good, we have to practice. And read. And get out into the world and observe. And listen. And practice some more. But mostly, we have to commit — commit to putting our butts in our chairs, commit to writing, commit to learning and to accepting criticism. We have to be willing to put in the time and effort, kind of like a pilot logging hours before they can fly solo.
I’ve heard it said (probably a million times), that it takes a million bad words before a writer produces something worth publication. (Let’s see… that would be word number 925,461… not that I’m counting or anything…). And maybe it’s not exactly a million words, but the point is valid — to do something well, we have to do it over. And over. And over again. And we have to fail (probably more than once), so we can learn from our mistakes.
After all, an overnight success is just someone who has worked really hard to become successful, right?
So how do you learn and grow as a writer? (Or pilot? Or surgeon?) Tell me in the comments below!
Jan Gangsei doesn’t have a clue how to fly a plane. But one of these days, she’d love to learn. In the meantime, she’s perfectly happy using her imagination to soar into the clouds.