Many emerging authors ask me what it takes to be a ‘real writer’. Is it writing a novel, getting a degree, finding an agent? Is it getting published, winning an award, making a living? My reply is always a much simpler proposition: is writing what you do? Not what you like, or what you want. What you do.
To help you determine if you’re a real writer, I’ve compiled a guide of four do’s and don’ts of the trade. Over the next few weeks, I’ll examine each in some detail. First up – one of my favourite ‘don’t’s:
Real writers don’t talk about how they’ll write a book one day.
Over the course of my career, two statements from inquisitive outsiders have tended to dominate the conversation: “You need to get your books on Oprah” and “I’d like to write a book one day”. The first may be a pipe-dream, but experience has shown it is less of a fantasy than the second. Saying you’d like to write a book one day is a fair indicator you will never write a book one day. There’s far too many holes to be poked in such a flippant declaration. When is this ‘one day’, this auspicious sun-up? Is it soon? Have you marked it on the calendar? And twenty-four hours doesn’t cut it – even Robert Louis Stevenson required six days to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Have you settled on some additional days? Months? Dare I ask…Years?
For real writers, there’s no time to talk about writing the book – they’re too busy writing the book. On a computer. On a typewriter. Longhand on foolscap with ‘Department of Primary Industries’ letterhead (how I wrote my first story collection). They’re jotting down bursts of inspiration on napkins and coasters and credit card statements. They’re devising narratives in the shower and on the throne. They’re laying down with protagonists and waking up with plot-lines.
For real writers, one day is today. And tomorrow. And the next day. For however many days, months, years it takes to do it.
And when it’s done, they’ll start all over again.
It’s what they do.