Shut Up And Write (Or: “I Really Want To Be A Writer, But…”)



*waggles accusing finger*

Shut up and write.

No, no, I know. You just wrote me an email and in this email — like in so many other emails by so many other ‘aspiring’ writers — you informed me that you really want to be a writer, but. No, it doesn’t matter what follows after the but. Something about time. Or family. Or fear. Or lack of knowledge. Or lack of practice. Or bees. Or facebees. Or how your hands were gnawed off by winged, mutated piranha leaving you with those lumpy fish-chewed stumps.

I don’t care.

I’m writing.

You’re not.

End of story.

Shut up.

Shut up shut up shut up.

And write.

Sure, yeah, some days it is fucking hard. Some days it feels like performing rectal surgery on a cantankerous bridge troll. Some days writing is running blindfolded through a maze made of pricker bushes. Writing is an act of creation, and creation is hard. It’s volcanic. Tumultuous. These creative atoms smash together clumsily, violently, destructively. You give something to get something with writing.

But also, it’s not that fucking hard.

C’mon, son. Really? Really? I mean, nobody’s asking you to send a man to Mars. You’re not tasked with desalinating an ocean or training a komodo dragon to cure ebola. Shit, I’m not even asking you to mop up some kid’s puke or wait tables at a five-star restaurant. Or a three-star. Or a fucking Hardee’s off the turnpike.

I’m saying, sludge yourself into the ass receptacle and peck keyboard keys like a hungry chicken until it makes words. Tap tap tap. Click click click. Or pick up one of the tools used by our distant ancestors — it is a tube filled with the liquid black souls of all the animals we’ve made extinct — and use this “pen” as a scribe would to etch scribbly heretical word-shapes onto dead tree pulp.

In other words: shut up and write.

Don’t talk about writing. Stop reading about writing. Don’t even come here. This place will be here later. When you’ve done the work. This blog isn’t meant to be your distraction — a warm pool in which to wade so you never have to swim out to the big bad scary ocean. It’s not here so you can feel productive and seem like a writer. Fuck that. No no no no no. You go write. Then you come back here. You gotta start first. Everything else is just masturbation. It’s fuck or walk time, hondo.

Shut up and write.

I really want to be a writer, but…


But what?

But nothing.

It’s on you. You wanna be a writer?

Easy! Write.

Ta-da! Zing! Bing! Bang! Boom.

The writer writes. The writer writes! THE WRITER WRITES.

Hell with aspiring.

To aspire is to expire.

But it’s scaaaaary, you say. Sure, sure, yes, it can be. That sacrificial component can be terrifying. It feels like exposing yourself — some kind of intellectual, creative nudity, like running through somebody else’s mind, naked. Stripped bare. To the skin. Maybe to the bone. What might you say? What might you reveal? Who are you? Who will read you?

I know! I do! And I still don’t jolly well fucking care! Shut up! It’s not like I’m shaking a box of wasps at you. The act of writing isn’t a bedroom closet stuffed full of eyeless clowns — the stink of greasepaint, the honking noses. We can slap whatever metaphors we want on the act: writing feels like jumping out of a plane, oh my oh my, and while that metaphor holds water, it still isn’t actually you jumping out of a plane, is it?

Nobody’s jumping out at you.

No sharks or animated scarecrows with pointy knives.


Write now, right now.

Shut up.

What’s that? You don’t have time?

Well, who fucking does? Everybody thinks writing is some happy horseshit anyway, and life does not automagically provide you with an allotment of hours in which to creatively dick around, so — welcome to the club. We’re all snatching minutes from the mouth of the beast.

Oh, oh, you’re afraid of rejection. Of course you are. I am too. I hate rejection. Who wants that? Who wants to be told no, this isn’t right, this isn’t good, this isn’t all there. But rejection is how you know you’re doing the work. Rejection means you’re putting words to paper and you’re throwing them out there for all the world to see. Rejection is your battle scars: proof of your fight in the arena. Nobody wants to fall down and go boom but falling down and going boom is how you learn not to fall next time. Or at least fall differently.

Or, is it that nobody respects that you wanna be a writer? Yeah, get used to that. You’d get more respect as a juggler hired out for children’s birthday parties. Who cares? Get shut of it. You’re not doing this for the glory. If this is just some fantasy, pinch off that artery right now. The fantasy of writing isn’t that glamorous, trust me. (If I turned on my webcam, you’d flinch and ask yourself, WHAT KIND OF MONSTER IS THAT HUNCHED OVER IN THE SICKLY GLOW OF A COMPUTER MONITOR OH MY GOD IT’S LIKE A FURRY BAG OF TRASH CAME ALIVE AND DECIDED TO BLOG — JESUS, GOD, THE EYES ARE HAUNTING, THE MOUTH IS HANGING OPEN, I CAN IMAGINE THE SMELL OF DEATH AND COFFEE.)

I want to be a writer, but.


Stop there.

And start writing.

You’re either writing, or you’re not. Stop obsessing over all the things that come later. Fuck publishing, marketing, audience, writing advice, writing blogs, tweets, reviews, book covers. This is a pure, untainted time between you and the manuscript. This is unfucked snow. So go, fuck that snow up. Write! Write. Create! Tell stories. Put it down. Carve something out of nothing — you’re given a wide and briny sea of pure imagination, so draw upon it.

I can do nothing for you if you’re not writing.

I can’t make you write.

I can’t puppet your indolent, inactive hands.

I can yell and kick and flail and flounce.

But all this is on you.

Shut up and write. Right now. Literally. Leave this page, go and open a notebook or a word processing program or grab a Sharpie and turn the pale flesh of your left arm skyward and start writing. Write 100 words, bare fucking minimum. No, I don’t care what, though it’s probably better if you aim for something, if you have a purpose in mind — but even if you don’t? Who cares. Pluck those words out of the dark like catching fireflies — fling them into your jar and admire their glow. And then, if you can manage it, write 100 more. And 100 more after that. As many as you can write today and then some. Push! Bite the belt. Swig the whiskey. Grit your teeth so hard you can feel the enamel crack. You’re not lifting a car off somebody.

Point your fingers downward and fling words into reality.


Then: stop and be proud.

Crush doubt beneath your boot-heel because you’re doing it. You’re writing.

Cackle. Go ahead: cackle. Like a supervillain.


And then tomorrow?

Do the same thing.

Don’t tweet about writing. Don’t read this blog. Don’t opine about writing or give writing advice or worry about who will publish your book or oh god will you self-publish or will you find an agent and how will you weather all that rejection and will your book cover just be some girl in leather pants with half-a-buttock turned toward the reader no — stop, quit that shit, stomp that roach, cut those thoughts and those actions right off at the knees.

Tomorrow, write more words until you can write words no more.

Then the next day.

Then the day after that.

Until you’ve finished something. Until you’ve completed the first pass. It’ll be an ugly baby, probably. It’ll be some squalling thing full of slugs and grease, moaning in the mulch. That’s okay. No mad scientist creates the perfect monster on the first go-round.

You’re doing it.

And once you do it long enough, you can say that you did it.

Shut up.


Shuuuuuut uuuuuuup.

Halt den mund.



And write.

Then you can email me.

Then we can talk.

131 responses to “Shut Up And Write (Or: “I Really Want To Be A Writer, But…”)”

  1. This is my favorite blog entry so far. I’ve been writing for many years, publishing in magazines and writing scripts for the corporate and educational worlds. And for years my friends have said “I don’t know how you find the time.” And I look at them genuinely perplexed; I work a full-time job besides my writing. I’m not superhuman. Just dedicated. tenacious and thick-headed. SO MANY people want to be writers without writing a single sentence, it astonishes me. Think if your doctor felt the same way…

    Thanks, Chuck, for your good words, unique humor and always, always, calling it like it is

  2. Great harangue for the lazy. I still get to come here and entertain myself when my hand cramps up, so there (blows raspberry). Yes I’m a Luddite who uses hollow tubes filled with the vital juices of endangered animals to scrap words onto sheets of bleached cellulose…

  3. Just brilliant, tells it how it is! An ‘aspiring writer’ is horse shit; as you say a writer writes, and if you write, you are a writer. That’s all that needs to be said but I love your extrapolated analogies and the boot camp approach – ‘just do it you cockroach’! Both a serious message and entertaining 🙂 Thanks for the kick up the pants Chuck. Better get back to my novel and off this blog!

  4. Serious question for you and all the other readers Chuck,

    I’m a writer. I get paid mid six figure income writing boring materials but still, I make a damned good living writing. Not the kind of writing I imagined myself making a living from but still….

    My question is, when do you know if you should give up on dreams of writing fiction?

    I’m writing 10 – 15 thousand words a day at work (I work remotely so its easy to track) but when I sit down to write fiction, despite the voices in my head yelling at me, I get physically sick. I panic. I hate myself for not being able to write what I want. My depression then spirals out of control because I know I can write, but I can’t write fiction. Trying to write fiction, makes me feel like the biggest failure, the worst person in the world. I can plan, plot outline etc without a problem, but the physical act of writing a story sends me into a well of self hatred that makes me unsure if its worth it.

    I take out my degree in creative writing and prove to myself that I use to be able to write fiction. I re-read things I’ve previously written and can see that its acceptable. Not great, but definitely able to be worked into good.

    But these days, trying to write a story brings on the worst of the depression, the self loathing, all of it. So how do I know if i should give up the dream of fiction and just do the boring stuff? Or should I keep trying to write stories even through all of the bad stuff?


    • Hi Nicole, I hear your pain. I wrote dry stuff for years and had the whole self-loathing spiral when I tried to write what I love. Still do.

      So…we’ve got demons. Stuff that might take years of therapy to understand. Guess what? Therapy doesn’t change anything. Yup, they’ve got research. You understand better after putting the therapist’s kids through college, but you don’t change behaviors. You need behavioral modification.

      I like the approach in this blog. Slap yo’se’f up side the face and just put words on paper. In fact, how about this: I challenge you to write the most awful fiction you can come up with. Nope, it’s not going to be good. It is going to suck on purpose. No outlines, no plot planning. Just write a 300 word flash fiction piece. Send it to me. Make it about a character who thinks she’s the worst writer in the world. Put your pain to paper. 300 words? You can do that in your sleep. Don’t even edit the grammar or spelling. Just write it and send it to me. (Put “Fear and Loathing” in the subject.)

      By the way, I’m nobody in particular.

      • “Nobody in particular”? I’ll give you a vote for today’s sweetest person ever. I hope Nicole is able to take you up on your offer – I think it’s not only caring, but great advice.

    • Nicole,

      I can’t say I understand the pain you feel when writing, but since you asked I’ll let you know what comes to my mind. Writing (a first draft) should be a private thing. If you love writing, you should be able to do it just for its own sake, like eating a pizza. When you eat a delicious pizza, do you worry, “Am I eating it right? Do I need to use a fork? Oh God, I’ve gotten sauce all over my face. At this rate I’ll never win the Annual Pizza Eat-A-Thon.” No! You just shove it into your gaping maw and savor the sweet savoriness. That is, IMO, how writing should be. Once you have a complete first draft, then you can start worrying about the Eat-A-Thon.

    • I’m not a therapist or anything, so take whatever I say with an epic grain of salt — but it sounds like the problem isn’t really the writing, but more the depression, which means that has to be tackled first. Because, of course, Depression Lies.

      — c.

      • I can’t tell you how much this rings true for me. I did have to deal with the depression first, and it was a pharmaceutical solution. I’m nowhere near finishing what I’ve been trying to do before that, but I am closer than I was, and enjoying my writing and my life so much better.

    • I tend to take the “Dare To Write Badly” meme with a grain of salt (because sometimes people let writing badly become their Standard Operating Procedure), but in your case it sounds like it might be a useful approach to get past the boojums.

      Also, What Wendig Said about depression. You mentioned a creative writing degree, and “acceptable” past efforts at fiction. So it’s not a lack of talent getting in your way. Where was your head at in college, why has it shifted to its present state, and how can you get it back where it belongs?

      (From experience, this is not easy. Depression is a bastard.)

      You mentioned “voices in my head yelling at me” when you try to write fiction. May I suggest trying to allow one of those voices to take over your typing fingers? Write in first person, and let that character tell his/her own story in their own voice. Get -your- head out of the way.

      I don’t know if any of this helps. I hope it does.

    • I can relate to what you’re saying (minus the mid six figure income!) I have my m.f.a. in fiction writing and well, my mother is still waiting for that published novel. I wrote two manuscripts and nothing came of them which lead me to this depression/self loathing. I stayed away from fiction writing for a couple of years and took on other creative projects. When I returned to writing fiction, it was harder than it had ever been. My brain just couldn’t think and create stories the way it used to. However, the more I wrote and thought about my characters and story the easier it became. It took a couple of months to retrain myself. I think fiction writing is a muscle and if you get out of the habit of thinking about your fictional world it takes practice and time to get back into the groove, to get those creative juices running again. It also sounds like you have a foul-mouthed, nasty control freak inner editor just like mine. Believe me, I know how hard it is to silence an internal editor during a first draft. I recently read some amazing advice from Andy Shack “How to keep writing when your inner critic screams” (you can google the article). I’m employing the method now and it really has helped me keep on writing since I’m appeasing my inner editor. It’s OK and totally acceptable to write a shitty first draft. Give yourself permission to do so. The point is to get the story on the page and then when you’re done, you’ll have something to reshape and rewrite. I hope you take Diana’s kind offer. Sometimes talking with another writer can help motivate and ignite the passion. YOU CAN DO IT!

    • Yep, I agree with what a lot of other people have said here, about tackling the depression as a priority AND about allowing yourself to be terrible.

      I’m assuming when you write your 10-15 thousand words a day (Holy WHAAAT? by the way? That’s a huge amount and you should be dead proud of that for a start!) that it’s either non-fiction or opinion piece subjects you’re writing. In the case of the former, you’re dealing with facts and as long as they’re correct (which is what research is for) you’ve done your job right. If it’s the latter… well, the clue is in the word ‘opinion’ – if you’re saying “this is what I think” you’re always going to be right, because it IS what you think, and if anyone disagrees with it that’s their opinion and nothing to do with anything you wrote being ‘incorrect.’ So from that perspective, the fear of doing stuff ‘wrong’ is not hard to pin down when it occurs.

      But for fiction, that fear of getting the elements of a story ‘wrong’ is far less tangible. You’re making stuff up, using people, places and events that aren’t necessarily following what everyone knows about the Real World. It’s a different mindset of writing from factual and opinion-based work, where it has to be ‘correct’ and ‘true’ – and I’m assuming that’s the mindset you’re more used to with your writing at work.

      In other words, when you’re trying to write fiction instead it’s highly likely that your brain is trying to edit your writing as you’re creating it; questioning the ‘facts’ as you go (even the non-real-world ones, like “would a cat have a problem pronouncing his S’s with the way his teeth and tongue are laid out in his mouth – or would including that be considered ‘catist’?” Then again, maybe that’s just me…) When you try to write fiction you hate what you’re writing because it’s not as good as you want it to be – probably nowhere near as coherent and flowing as your work writing, which is what you’ve had the most practice at.

      The good news? It’s not meant to be. IT’S SUPPOSED TO SUCK. It WILL suck, it ALWAYS sucks the first time round. The trick is to remind yourself of this and know that it doesn’t matter not one jot. Don’t be afraid of sucking – embrace the suck! Cuddle it, pet it and name it George. You can go back and edit and re-edit as many times as you want – and EVERY fiction writer does that, because even the greatest writers in the world write donkey-vomit for their first draft of any story. Yep, even Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and just about any other famous author you care to name.

      You ARE already a good fiction writer. You just need a few goes at any particular fiction thing to get it to the ‘good’ stage – along with just about every other author in the history of forever. Be kind to yourself. Next time you write something fictional that sucks, instead of beating yourself up and feeling like a failure, say to yourself “Yep, this sucks – and that’s great. Because now I’ve got a pile of suck that I can play with and squish into different shapes until I make it better. And I can do that a couple of times or I can do it a hundred times – either way, I’ll make it better each time.”

      ‘Cause this is an exam where you can re-take the test as many times as you like. The key to success is being as willing to fail as to succeed. Failure is the dress rehearsal for success! I’m running out of inspirational soundbites! But you get the idea. 🙂

      **fellow-writer virtual hug**

    • Hi Everyone,

      Thank you all SO VERY much for your words of support. After reading (listening because you all sound different in my head) I’ve decided to take a little break (just for a fortnight) from fiction writing and speak with my doctor about the depression. I’ve been trying to get through it alone, but…I’m done being stupid.

      Dianadihhl1 you are the most amazing stupendously wonderful person. Thank you so very much for your support and offer.

      Thank you all individually, your support and words of encouragement mean so much more than you’ll ever know.

      For the first time in my entire life, I feel not alone. Not abandoned.

      Love to you all.

  5. Yay, I’ve hit my daily word count (actually wrote almost double because I was partway through a scene and didn’t want to stop) so I’m allowed to play!

    Honestly Chuck, your blog has pushed me to actually keep working on my novel, despite interruptions and writer’s block and criticism and everything else. And I had no real excuse not to write – I’ve got a kid at school and a husband at work, so I’ve got an entire day to get on with it – the only thing really stopping me was self-sabotage. Procrastination sucks, and I only do it because I STILL don’t think I’m good enough to write a damn book.

    But you know what? I don’t care if it sucks. At least it means I tried. And something bad can be made better. You can’t make something out of nothing. I’m sure that made more sense in my head.

    Thank you for inspiring people like me, in your unique, profanity-riddled, presumably-caffeine-fueled way. Much love and cookies to you!

  6. Every creative person should read this. Writing, painting, whatthefuckever… shut up and do it. I have trouble with that. I may print this out, in a large font. Seriously.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. This is such an important message for creators of all kinds to constantly remember. We all dream of “being” a writer or “being” an artist, when all we really have to do to accomplish that goal is sit down and do the thing we claim holds our passion.

  7. You mean people actually write to you and give you reasons why they want to be be a writer but somehow haven’t managed to prioritise writing in their lives yet? Who cares? A writer writes. A WRITER WRITES!

  8. As someone considering whether to commit (unofficially) to NaNo to see whether I really can discipline myself and write every day, this is the kick I needed. I find it WAY too easy to say ‘manyana’…and do something non-wordy instead.

    Thanks, Chuck x

  9. I’m a little confused Tweeting this out to my followers seems counter-intuitive in a reverse-psychology, reach-down-its-throat,-grab-it-by-the-tail-and-pull-it-inside-out sort of way. You know what? I’m just gonna trust my gut on this one.

  10. Okay Chuck. I had one of my many story-dreams on 14 October. This happens to me a lot – I wake up and I have almost a fully-fledged story right there sizzling in my brain like a juicy steak. Then I read your post yesterday morning, 15 October. Bit of serendipity because I was needing a kick up the backside (figuratively speaking) and so I sat down to start trying to transcribe this dream-story into a real story at 17.06 yesterday (I love Scrivener, it tells you everything) … and I stopped at 19.32 this evening, 16 October. 26 hours straight (I did go to the loo, made a gazillion coffees and ate a bagel).

    And I wrote 25,148 words in that 26hrs. Admittedly, 22,986 is probably shit and will get canned after I’ve finished the first draft. I am going to fall into a coma, then get up tomorrow and do it all over again because I have a day off. I think I need some new flame-retardant fingertips because my hands were on *fire*, for the first time in months.

    So just … thanks man.

  11. I still don’t write NEARLY enough as I should, but having StumbleUpon’ed this page a couple years ago has given me more motivation than anything or anyone I’ve ever encountered. Whether it’s the Flash Fiction Challenges or the Writing Tips books (which I’ve bought), my output and creativity has increased exponentially. Thank you, Lord Pen Monkey.

  12. How about, I want to be a writer AND I’m taking a writing class. I’m loving it. I’m writing. It hurts. It’s hard. It’s amazing. I’m not great, but I’m getting better. I’m learning.

    • That’s great Bonnie, it doesn’t matter how good the writing is to begin with (my first drafts are awful!) What matters is that you’re writing. You’re doing something that others don’t, even though they wish they could.

  13. As Vidal said about people whining about writers block – “Fuck ’em! Plenty more where they came from.” Too many people think writing should be easy. It’s not ditch digging, but it’s not easy, either.

  14. Cracking post. I’d just like to address this to the time poor.

    Mr Wendig is RIGHT. Speaking as someone whose writing time probably averages out at about 5 minutes a day I can assure you that there is nothing more evil, frustrating, out and out debilitating and yet fantastic and insanely addictive as writing. Cackling like a supervillian as the words spew out of my bleeding fingers isn’t the half of it. Trust me. You may end up as a dishevelled smelly crone hunched over a keyboard but you’ll be a happy one. Do it now. However hard it is. Do it. Because you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Yes I produce books slower than the speed glaciers move but now, after 6 years I look back and think, “shit! When did I find the time to produce all that?”

    Listen to Mr Wendig. He speaks wisely, young paduan.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to go write.



  15. Thanks Chuck! That’s just what I needed today (I read this at lunchtime, because I can’t type and eat at the same time, so that’s allowed, yeah?) I’m at the draft two stage of my current w-i-p, which means I’m trying very hard not to despair at my lacklustre daily word counts at the moment, but as long as they ARE still defiantly daily it doesn’t matter TOO much if I’m not rattling out a chapter a day… does it?

    • No it doesn’t. How much you write, when you write it — none of it matters to the point of you being a writer. Every writer is different. They follow different muses and different drummers.

      If someone tells you you’re not a writer because you didn’t grind out X number pages each day, fuck them. They know diddly.

  16. Take ’em a step farther, Chuck. Just found you, excellent work. Now take ’em a step farther to Heinlein’s Rules, that researching is not writing, reading is not writing, re-ohmygod-writing is not writing. Writing is putting new words on the page, and not your page but their page. Love your voice. Great job.

  17. It’s been a while and I’ve been slacking off. What do I need? I need some motivation. Or maybe I need Chuck to yell at me. You’re right, okay? I hear you. Fuck.

  18. Thank you, I’ve needed that 😉
    Fall Holidays.
    Don’t write at all, or cut general word-goal in half?

  19. […] of interest to the others. In that regard, Ann Stratton emailed me last night to send the URL for Chuck Wendig’s blog. Might be a good one to watch. This one said, in slightly different language, what I told you guys […]

  20. Hey, Chuck, I’ve read your post in the middle of last week, and it was really important for me: on the same day I start write my story again. I was stuck because I needed to develop the personality of my antagonist; but, like people say here in Brazil, if you are afraid, go with afraid anyway. Thank you, man!

  21. […] Shut Up and Write (Or: I Really Want to Be a Writer, But…): Oh. Goodness. Yeah. I should print this out and hang it over my desk. Or tattoo it on my arm. Or something. “Stop talking about writing. Stop reading about writing. Stop dreaming about writing. The thing that defines the writer is that the writer writes.” Oh dear. Right. Or, write… […]

  22. I used to be able to write when I was stressed out. I still can, occasionally, if I make myself, though it feels almost physically painful. But lately I’ve been extremely poor at managing stress, and there’s been a lot of stress in my life on top of that…I’ve found that I feel the need to be in a “safe” place before I can write, somewhere where I am allowed to fuck up, be myself, write well or badly, and not feel accountable to anything for that first draft. I haven’t had that in what feels like forever. Or perhaps getting too particular about the writing/living space and not just learning to write under different conditions is the problem, a roundabout way of procrastinating. I’m not sure if this is just a writing block or an actual problem…

    • I think that’s common, Laura. Especially if you don’t feel you have an emotionally safe space. Writing exposes your innards. Sounds like you need to make that space for yourself, even if you resort to superstitious partitioning of your brain. Stack up pillows inside a closet and run a reading light inside. (Who needs space for shoes, right? Toss them in a bin!) A rooftop or basement? A corner office with a blanket tent made of old Indian bedspreads?

      There is a reason that so many people flock to coffee shops to write. You are protected by anonymity. Find your space. Make it. Carve it out of chaos. Plus, practice deep breathing and any exercise you can handle–even if for only 5 minutes a day. Brain chemistry is a magical and convoluted mechanism that you can alter to reduce stress, fears, and frozen inertia, even when you can’t change the world around you. Now I’d better go take my own advice.

  23. Then you start writing and you get disturbed by the horrific things your mind has vomited all over the wood pulp; and you start wondering if you need either a therapist or an editor that with a stomach stronger then a goat. 😛

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