A Labor of Love

If I start this little nugget by saying writing is hard, probably a lot of you will throw various food items at your computer screen in disgruntled annoyance. No kidding, genius, you’ll say. If it was easy, I’d be writing the next tantalizing chapter instead of wasting time on your points-out-the-obvious blog.

So let’s all agree upon the foundation that writing is hard.

It is because it’s hard that writing must, above all things, be a labor of love. Love for yourself, love for the very act, and love for what you’re writing. When an infant cries in the middle of the night, for the fourth time, the mother doesn’t get up—exhausted and delirious—out of pure self will. By her unfettered discipline does she rise! No—she gets up because she loves that gosh darn crying demanding overwhelming speck of human life that is totally dependent on her.

No amount of will or self discipline is going to continually get you out of bed unless, first, you love this crazy, crazy bizz-nass we call writing.

First, love the writer in you.

Any act of creativity basically means you’re also going to do it wrong in some way first. And then after, again. All the time. Give yourself permission to write bad—sometimes your writing will disappoint you. Sometimes you laziness will always disappoint you. You will say, “I’m not leaving this desk until I finish 1000 words,” and then you’ll waste two hours on Facebook.

Also, realize that every writer ever, that I know of, thinks they suck. We’re all failures, funnily enough. Deciding to keep writing after emerging from a smog of self-loathing must come from a place of kindness and forgiveness and, yes, love.  Elizabeth Gilbert said that, “One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: “That’s actually not my problem.” The point I realized was this – I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows.”

Which leads me to the next point: love the act of writing.

Don’t write to get published. I know that sounds obvious, but we all do it. We’re writing a great scene and we’re thinking, “This is going to look so sweet in the movie version that’s totally going to happen after this book outsells Harry Potter and Twilight combined!”

But the fact is, a rare percentage of us are going to get rich off our writing. First of all, nobody knows anything. Publishing is such a fickle thing. I’ve gotten into this really bad, neurotic habit where every time I read a good book, I look the author up on Wikipedia and I subtract the date of their first published book from the birth date to find out how old they were when their first book was published. Most of them were around my age (I’m 24) and this only panics me. My panic follows two strings: one, I’m never going to be better than what I am—I’ve hit my limitation of mediocrity. It’s like, if I wanted to be an Olympic sprinter, I could go outside every day and run my little heart out, but I’d still never be fast enough—it’s just not in me. My other train of thought usually happens when I pick up a published novel and think, “I could write this! I could be this successful writer!” (Certain porno fanfiction-turned-romance novels that shall-not-be-named sometimes spur these reactions.) 

These are both dangerous, and incorrect, ways of thinking.

Once upon a time, after years of struggling to get his films made, an Italian filmmaker sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog, saying how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc. Herzog wrote back a personal letter that essentially said: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

In other words, if you’re feeling resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated, just remember: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.”

And finally, love what you’re writing.

Don’t try and follow trends. As Neil Gaiman says, “Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do . . . the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

Above all, tell a good story. And it will be good, no matter what it’s about, if first and foremost, you are excited about it.

So, as Jackie DeShannon would say, “put a little love in your heart,” and keep writing, writers.

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