Grumbling About Writing Advice

by syaffolee

From Ignore anyone who tells you to write, write, write! (via @simplywriting):

What I’m saying is that I don’t care what you do, just don’t think that to ‘be a writer’ you have to grind yourself into the ground, because you don’t. You have to work hard, yes. But you don’t have to spend every waking hour trying to do what some blogo-nitwit on the internet (including me) says you should be doing.

And if someone questions your commitment because you chose to watch X Factor or American Idol rather than attempt to beat your writer’s block with an hour and a half’s worth of horrible, depressing, turgid, ultimately unusable writing, please tell them to shove their judgemental claptrap right up their bum.

Writing for the sake of writing is a waste of time.

Something about this article completely tweaks me the wrong way.  Maybe it’s because the article tries to play into the concept of writing as an artistic endeavor rather than a job.  If it’s an artistic endeavor then people have the notion that it’s okay to take large swathes of time off to recharge your creative energies and be eccentric–because that’s what artists supposedly do.  If writing is a job–then you write whether you feel like it or not.  In reality, it is a mix of the two.  While there is an artistic and hobbyist aspect to writing, for some people writing is their livelihood.  If writing is going to literally put food on your table, then you can’t dither your time away doing something unproductive.

Of course, there is no one correct way to be a writer.  How one writes is up to the individual.  But all writers do have something in common–they write, regardless of whether the regimen is the 8 to 5 sort or the last two hours in the day after a long marathon of reality TV.

I don’t particularly agree with the idea that “horrible, depressing, turgid, ultimately unusable writing” is “a waste of time”.  Bad writing expresses something even if it does not express it well.  It is also practice.  Writing is like a lot of other skills.  In order to get better at it, you have to practice.  A concert pianist doesn’t get to his level of caliber by just sitting around and only playing when he feels like he can play it perfectly.  Similarly, a writer should not wait until he or she is in the frame of mind for perfect prose.  There’s no such thing as perfect writing.  And even if you settle for just good enough–even that requires practice.  And if it’s still not good, well, that’s what revision is for.

Ultimately the backlash against this “write, write, write” mantra is misguided.  The only reason people continually harp on writing is that some people who call themselves writers simply don’t write.  It’s okay if someone who has been writing a couple hundred words each day suddenly hits a block and just needs to take a break for a week in order to recharge.  But if your brief vacation from writing stretches out to several years, I begin to seriously doubt that it’s writer’s block.  Instead, I begin to think it’s procrastination.