The Hardest Writerly Truth Of Them All

You are the sun at the center of your own narrative universe. You are its god. You are its savior.

I am not its god. I am not its savior.

Let’s rewind a little.

I get emails.

These emails ask me things like, How do I get motivated? or How do I get inspired?

Or, worse, they want to know how I “do it” every day. Not a reference to my sexual prowess (were you to ask the intimate partners of my life, they may speak of a lack of prowess reminiscent of the fumblings of an inept-yet-eager lube-soaked chimpanzee), but rather it’s a reference to my ability to hunker down and just… write.

I do it every day. And people want to know how.

They want hard answers. They want a button to push, a lever to yank. More troubling, they seem to want a menu of options. Discard this one, pick that one, the perfect meal suited to the eater.

I have one answer for you.

It is not a nice, nor easy, answer.

That answer is: “You just do.”

How do you get motivated?

You just do.

How do you get inspired?

You just do.

How do you write every day? How do you finish a book? How do you learn to spin a great narrative, to create memorable characters, to put pen to paper and fingers to keys and explode your heart and your mind with the power of motherfucking stories?

You.

Just.

Do.

This may seem like an admonishment against writing advice, that all the shit that I sling here is worthless because the reality is, the very act of writing is the answer. Do not misunderstand: writing advice has value, but it only has value to those who are willing to execute and implement. All the writing-talk and story-speak in the world won’t do more than tickle your theoretical story’s imaginary testicles if you’re unwilling to commit the time and effort it takes to grab the words from inside your ribcage and smash them like overripe fruit on the page.

Only when you choose to open that door by embracing action does this stuff matter.

Until then, it’s all just candy-floss and elf-dreams, man. It’s ether. It’s nothing.

Action. Execution. Implementation.

Do. Write. Finish.

I know, you’re saying, “That’s easier said than done.” I know it is! So fucking what? A big-ass boulder tumbles down from the mountaintop and falls on your hand and pins the limb, you either gnaw through your arm like a goddamn coyote or you die under the rock. Door won’t open? Kick it down. Wall blocking your path? Bash it with your skull until it falls or you do.

Life’s getting in the way? I’m sorry, that’s how life works. Life is a series of obstructions — it’s speedbumps all the way down. You’re depressed? Get in line. You’re depressed. So’s that woman over there and she wrote 1000 words today, and yesterday, and the day before. You think I don’t deal with depression? Of course I do. We writers are tailor-made for that. I know, I sound unsympathetic — trust me, it’s the opposite. I’m completely sympathetic. I’ve been there. I’m sometimes there still. It doesn’t change the cold, hard fact that all the power lies with you. In your brain. In your hands. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. Did you want it to be easy? What fun is easy? Easy is a value of zero. And surely you want more than nothing? Writing makes you pay. In blood and tears and frustration. You do it because you love it. Not because it’s a warm bed at your back but because it’s sharp stones under your feet spurring you forward.

It’s the wolf at your heels. It’s the fire in your heart. Wolves bite. Fire burns.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s hard and makes no sense and sometimes the frustration gets so bad you just want to dunk your head in a bucket of whiskey and hide your tears inside the liquid burn but, but, but –

Fuck it. Shut up! Write. You get your years and you get no more. These are your days. No Muse is going to breathe a hot sigh of inspiration up your hiney-hole. I’m not going to come to your house and crawl inside your skin and bind my bones to yours with the purpose of forcing you to crap out all your big bad story-words. Oh, you have writer’s block? Boo-hoo! Writer’s Block has as much power as you give it — it’s a Weeping Angel, so bind it to the earth with your gaze.

This is creation!

This is the act of forging something out of nothing. It demands sacrifice. It’s you carving off parts of yourself to a future without promises, you spilling power and grief and embracing chaos and uncertainty all in the hopes of trying to make sense of this thing you do in the sheer bloody-minded chance that something you write will finally matter but the trick is, it all matters, because writing is how we connect with ourselves and the world beyond our margins. Writing is how we tether ourselves to god, a god in a narrative world that is, of course, us.

You’re the Muse that inspires you. You’re the god to which you sacrifice. You’re the battering ram made of unholy fire that tears down Writer’s Block. You’re the knife that cuts the arm off, you’re the boulder that must be pulverized, you’re the devil in the details.

You’re the one-armed coyote or you’re the dead sonofabitch under the rock.

I can try to tell you how to write.

But first you have to be willing to write.

You only get the map when you step through the door.

It only gets done by doing it.

Will yourself to create.

Accept no excuses.

Brook no fear.

Shut up.

Fuck it.

Write.

142 comments

  • Hey, Chuck. Reading this post, Made me wonder something. At what age did you finally sit down and start writing, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. How long did it take you to make it into an unbroken habit?

    It can be an easy habit to break, For someone that hasn’t been doing it for very long.

      • Thanks!

        Its a hard pill to swallow for some. That you have to put in the years of work, Before finding success. Something you’ve repeated here at The Minds, Many times. ABW! Art Harder, Mother Fucker!

  • I wrote a similar blog post concerning this topic called: Is Inspiration Over-Rated? I discovered a while ago that I can’t afford to write on the fuel of romantic whims. asateenwriter.blogspot.com

  • Heh.
    made my day.
    not sure why – but it did.
    Helps that I’m easily amused.
    I’m off to, how’d you put it? “commit the time and effort it takes to grab the words from inside your ribcage and smash them like overripe fruit on the page.”

    Thanks!!

  • Writer’s Block is merely a dead-end or a traffic accident. Pardon my language, but back that fucker up and go a different way. The only one stopping you is you. Your excuses. Your doubts. Your fears. Face all of that and youcan overcome anything. No one has power over you.

    • That, like the questions the blog posts endeavors to answer, features a straightforward (if unpleasant) answer.

      You just do.

      You write. You work. You muddle through it. You find clarity and inspiration and hope beyond doubt however you must. No one can give it to you, and nobody can tell you how you do it. You just do.

      — c.

  • “The most important tool in any writer’s toolkit is a deadline. It imposes structure and a little bit of desperation.” —Wolf Lahti

    Yes, I am quoting myself. Doesn’t everybody?

  • You know what seriously bugs the living shit out of me, that you, Mr. Wendig, do not do, and which I greatly appreciate? NO? Well, I’m about to tell you. You don’t put excerpts of other people’s writing into your books of writerly advice. THANK YOU. Seriously, I hate that shit. It’s distracting, confusing, boring, fails to illustrate what it’s supposed to, and pisses me off. (While we’re venting, just thought I’d mention it).

  • Crazy-assed good man!

    Many years ago I saw a documentary about Canadian author Mordecai Richler. I laughed to myself when they made a deal out of the actual spot in the house where he wrote, as if there would be something inspirational there, like a statue to ponder or a view to take your breath away.

    When asked about how he wrote, his response was essentially the same.

    He also noted that while he sat down in front of his typewriter every day, he didn’t write something every day. For him the point was that it was essential to cut through the crap and just sit down and do it, every day. Whether or not the creative juices are flowing.

    Charles Schultz, when asked how he drew Peanuts so well, said he figured he had just so many bad drawings in him and that the more he drew the more of those he would get out, with only the good drawings left.

    Two writing moments that have stayed with me.

    NB: Apologies to Sara for quoting other writers ;)

    • I forgive you. Just don’t try to sell me a book in which half the text is an excerpt from something else, unless the book is explicitly promoted as a commentary on another text. Maybe I’ll write a book: 101 Ways Not To Give Writing Advice. Illustrating your point with excerpts from your own fiction will be at the top of my list, followed closely by using excerpts from the fiction of others, and referring to books not everyone has read. At least Chuck is capable of using his own words. How hard is that? Apparently harder than you’d think.

  • I love this post so hard. I often equate writing to working out. If I want a better body badly enough, I’ll get my ass to the gym even when I’m feeling crummy or tired or would rather be spending time with friends/family/dogs/whatever.

    Same principle applies to writing. If I want it enough, I’ll make the time to sit my ass down (maybe after the gym, muscles are tired anyway) and, as you so succinctly put it, just do it.

    If it’s important, you make time. If it isn’t, then there you go.

  • There may come a day when we stall. When we let life’s everyday obstructions take our dream and bludgeon it to death with an overcooked hot pocket. When our depression shanks our artistic genius with the jagged shards of the mirror of our excessive self-examination. But it is not THIS day. This day, WE WRITE!

  • As a graphic designer I spent years sending such emails regarding process, craft and motivation to my “design heroes”. I never got a response. Three years ago, when I decided I also wanted to be a writer, I vowed to never send such emails, and I’m proud to say, I never have.

  • Yep. Needed this. I’m trying to pull myself out of a depressed streak, locked in the Iron Maiden of my own self-doubts. Another rejection slip in the mail. An unanticipated bill causes a higher workload. Yet, if I get 1000 words a day on paper, I’ll have a whole book in 100 days or less. I can find one hour to do that, no matter how busy I get.

    Steal one story from nonexistence, and you’ve won the day.

  • I spend an inordinate amount of time these days meeting people and telling them that they have what they need to do what they can do *now,* and should be doing things *now.* That they’ll make mistakes, and get better, and move forward by doing things *now.* Not because they “deserve” it. Not because they got one degree or another. Not because they’ve figure everything out, or someone gave them permission, or they finally had the Wizard hand them their courage, or they got a job title and business card. But because by DOING they’ll get things done and move forward with what they want to do.

    This past week and a half I began boiling the speech down to the word do. Half a dozen times I ended up emphatically tapping a table at a coffee shop with my hand and ending with the word “DO.”

    For the last few day I’ve been wondering if this was too simple. If I had missed the boat somehow by emphasizing a simple, two-letter word again and again. If I might have been leading people astray.

    Thanks for the column. You’ve reassured me I was on track.

  • After reading this post, I immediately put my flash drive in the computer and continued my manuscript that I hadn’t touched in two months.

    The words really did start flowing. But I have to choose to just do it.

    Thank you for the motivation, Chuck.

  • Now Chuck, I would not argue with these truths, but I would offer the following: It’s not so very hard to write every day, when writing is what protects your heart and soul from a day job as a child abuse lawyer. Love to write. Love to come home because that’s where I write. The worst writing day ever I’ve had has been as good as most days doing child welfare law. This is probably a poor reflection on child welfare law, but it’s for sure an accurate reflection on the privilege and pleasure of writing.

  • Nice – thanks for posting this.

    I’m in year 15 of a long-term NF interview-based project, off and on, tried to walk away a dozen times – the off times have become fallow, or simmering-on-the-stove or whatever. Thought at first those times were bad for me, but turned out to give me the distance I needed from my subject and to finally see how the threads are starting to weave together.

    Doesn’t matter if life keeps getting in the way (it does) or how many times you get knocked down (you will)… it’s how many times you get back up again.

  • F’n A. I wrote for 15 years, got 451 rejections. Got up every morning at 3 am to write before work.

    I’m not a God. I just wanted it. BAD.

    LIke Steven Pressfield said, “I keep going until I get a yes or a restraining order.”

    You have to want it THAT bad.

  • Great, raw advice. The sugar coating is that sometimes, when you sit down to write anyway because that’s what you do, it is actually the best activity in the world. Not all the time, but sometimes. That never happened to me in telemarketing.

  • Thanks so much for this. I got sent the link to it through G+ (where a lot of your posts get passed around, like dirty paperbacks at school…) and found it so inspiring I went off and wrote a post about how inspiring it was. It’s kind of gushy, so I’m not linking it here. I DID link to THIS post THERE, so people may come from my post to read this one and get inspired too. I hope so.

  • A-friggen-men.

    I all but stopped attending writers’ groups because I can’t stand the level of navel-gazing, woe is me, I’m too busy to write, bull-ish. There’s nothing less interesting than listening to some twit drone on about how they just haven’t found the time to finish their first novel, which they’ve been working on for five years.

    If these people stopped attending these pity parties and instead used that precious time for writing, maybe they’d actually get some ish done.

    Writers just need to shut the frak up and write.

  • OH MY WIZARD GOD. Just when I thought I couldn’t love you more, you go and make a Doctor Who reference. Damn you, Wendig.

    Oh, and this was excellent–exactly the kick in the pants I needed! Thanks!

  • Brilliant post, Chuck. I had to learn this the hard way; it’s only now that I’m finally walking the walk after years of wanting and hoping and “if-only”-ing.

    The key for me was letting go of the ‘X-Factor Mentality’ i.e. the idea that if I couldn’t get published and make a career as a writer I’d have officially ‘failed’ at writing, full stop. I came from the kind of family where failing at anything was the worst thing you could do – so even if I came within reach of achieving my goal, I often ran away before putting myself on the block.

    It was only when I asked myself honestly “If I could see into the future and know I’m never going to be a rich and famous writer, would I stop writing from now on?” – and realised the answer was “no way!” – that I worked out what I needed to do was redefine my ideas about what ‘failure’ really was. Now I just write because I just do. My current w-i-p might end up being good enough to publish – in which case I’ll write the next one… and the next one. Or it might get rejected by the entire universe – in which case I’ll write the next one… and the next one…

    Thanks again for the golden nugget, Chuck. Here’s hoping it’ll save others from making the mistake I did. :^)

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