Why I hate writing, Part 2

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From a very early age, both of my children have uttered the phrase “It’s not fair!” on numerous occasions. They didn’t overhear it from their parents; it didn’t have to be taught to them. I think the concept of fairness and unfairness is ingrained in each of us. We cry out for justice when we perceive injustice. Unless of course we perceive the scales tend to tip in our favor, then maybe it’s not so big a deal.

This is another reason I hate writing–or more specifically–the business of writing and publishing. Because it’s not fair. Don’t believe me? Peruse the New York Times Best Seller List and note how many books on that list are written by or about celebrities, or go to the local bookstore and try NOT to find a vampire romance novel. Meanwhile, your literary masterpiece sits on the corner of your desk held together by the giant binder clip of despair.

But here’s the thing: it can’t possibly be fair. Because what constitutes good writing, or rather, good reading is so completely subjective, and the publishing business is–well–a business.

In the book Harry Potter and Philosophy, William Irwin states:

“(J.K.) Rowling is not Shakesphere, nor has she ever claimed to be. But as Mark Twain once said of his own books, they’re less wine than water, before adding this, ‘Everyone drinks water’…Something’s popularity is decisive evidence of neither its truth nor falsehood, neither its value or worthlessness.”

So what’s a writer with dreams of publication and at least a small amount of notoriety to do against seemingly insurmountable odds? Most of you who have been at this for any amount of time already know what I’m about to tell you, and I’m no expert, but I play one on the Internets. So I’ll offer you this unsolicited advice (I know–you’re welcome):

  1. Man up or put your big girl panties on. (Or both–I’m not here to judge you.) Be ready for the long haul. It’s been my observation that behind every overnight success story you’ll find a long path of blood, sweat, tears and rejection letters.
  2. Study your craft. Read books about writing, plot and structure and (please!) basic grammar and sentence structure. You may be good, but you can always be better, and “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” (Stephen King)
  3. Devote serious, uninterrupted time to writing. Even if what you’re writing is utter crap, keep writing. No one else has to see it, but if you’re really committed to writing, you can’t just write when you feel like it. If you don’t take this seriously no one else will either.
  4. Live a better story. Then write a better story.
  5. Don’t quit your day job just yet.
  6. If you think a life of a writer is too hard; that you’ll never make it, quit. Do something else.
  7. If you found yourself nodding your head while reading the previous point and feeling a huge weight being removed from your shoulders, you’re probably not cut out to be a professional writer. (See previous point.)

And remember this bit of advice from the Great One:

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

~Stephen King, On Writing

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26 Responses to “Why I hate writing, Part 2”

  1. Kathleen July 23, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    You and The Novel Doctor- I think you’re giving him a good run for his money here. 🙂 Please do #3!
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Only on a Motorcycle =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 10:47 am #

      Thanks, Kathleen. I’m not entirely comfortable being mentioned in the same breath as Stephen, though. He actually does know what he’s talking about.

  2. Jasmine July 23, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    You make some good points. I love the quote on Mark Twain. Very true. I enjoy the book, The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. I truly love her approach to writing. If you haven’t read it, you should. I think many would enjoy it.

    • Sandra Heska King July 23, 2010 at 9:21 am #

      Good stuff! I like D. We can’t just shut ourselves in with the wine barrels if we also want to offer water to the thirsty.

      BRB. I’m going to move my car out so the rain can wash it.
      .-= Sandra Heska King´s last blog ..Summer Seating =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

      Jasmine – Man! Everyone seems to be reading that book! Guess I need to check it out. Thanks.

  3. Louise July 23, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Great advice and counsel — and the Live a better story. Write a better story. Pretty profound there Ms Kat!
    .-= Louise´s last blog ..The View From My Place =-.

  4. michael July 23, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Live a better story. Then write a better story.

    I really like the one above because it applies to so much more than writing. I counsel a lot of people and this is something that I wish I could just get into their heads.
    .-= michael´s last blog ..Manipulating The Scales =-.

  5. Megan Willome July 23, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    Stephen King’s “On Writing” is great. And I don’t care for his fiction.

  6. Helen July 23, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I will have to pay more attention to C. Which won’t be as tough since today is my last day of summer school. Yes. I will miss them.
    .-= Helen´s last blog ..Do You Really Know What You Know and Why Does Home Grown Lettuce Look Like Large Weeds =-.

  7. katdish July 23, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Oops! I need to give credit where credit is due. The “Live a better story/Write a better story” line is from a sermon series by my friend and pastor Jeff Hogan called “Epic”. Which I’m really hoping he will condense into blog post format and send to me as a series. Are you reading this, Jeff?

  8. ~Brenda July 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    I love all of this, and I identify with B and C most. That’s where I need to start putting in serious effort. Although, in the C point, the key word for me is “uninterrupted.” No easy feat when you’re parenting teens. 😉

  9. Duane Scott July 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    “Live a better story. Then write a better story.”

    I like that. Simple. Clean. But true.
    .-= Duane Scott´s last blog ..dreaming with a troubled heart =-.

  10. A Simple Country Girl July 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    I’ve enjoyed these last two posts. And for some reason I cannot get the image outta my head of boldly pulling up to the blank page all while wearing my big girl unmentionables. I really don’t like it when I have to poke out my own mind’s eye…

    Blessings.
    .-= A Simple Country Girl´s last blog ..Slaves of Righteousness =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

      You crack me up!

  11. Bradley J Moore July 23, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Great writer tips. And thanks again for your tough love the other day. Do you do this professionally? Kicking writers in the ass, i mean. Because you could, you know. You’ve got a good eye and a sense of things. Ha. I just wrote “thongs” instead of “things”, but the auto-correct kicked in.
    .-= Bradley J Moore´s last blog ..Taking Notes =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

      Brad – I’m currently under contract kicking Billy’s ass, but he’s so darned self-disciplined it’s hardly any fun at all.

  12. Jason July 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    “Even if what you’re writing is utter crap, keep writing. No one else has to see it, but if you’re really committed to writing, you can’t just write when you feel like it. If you don’t take this seriously no one else will either.”

    I struggle with this because writing crap makes me more frustrated. If I write something I know is utter crap, I get so mad I want to spit. My time is so limited that I don’t want to waste it writing something I know is complete garbage. I take writing so seriously that I don’t want to waste a word on something I know is crap. (Knowing full well what I think is good is really crap right now. 😉 )
    .-= Jason´s last blog ..TPWC Day 22- From the muddy banks of the Wishkah =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

      Well, Jason. You certainly have that writer’s angst thing going for you.

  13. Cassandra Frear July 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    Good to read these two posts on writing, Kat. The second one more serious, but certainly with nuggets to chew on.

    Recently, I think I have finally hit my stride on this issue. I have never enjoyed writing more, just the act of it, the gift of being part of it.

    When I come to the page, writing is an act of profound fellowship with the One who is the Word and whom I am privileged to imitate in small way as I craft images and settings and stories. I, the created, create and join hands with my Creator in a deep partnership — if I take time to notice, to be aware.

    Let me say it again. It is a privilege. It is an honor. Even to write for one person. It is joy and life and light shining out from my life and into my life at the same time. When I remember this, the rest — the opinions of publishers and agents, the miserable market, the bad books in bookstores, the sloppy craftsmanship readers often endure — the rest does not matter.

    On a practical note:

    I’m set to begin working slowly and carefully through Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, and I’m really looking forward to it. Have you read it?
    .-= Cassandra Frear´s last blog ..Leaping the Wall =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

      Haven’t read that one yet. Let me know what you think of it, will you?

  14. Bridget July 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    She shoots… she scores (again). Thanks for reminding me not to feel sorry for myself, and to continue making writing a priority. I need a kick in the big girl panties every now and again. I appreciate you, Kathy.
    .-= Bridget´s last blog ..Fun Friday…Birthday =-.

  15. Lainie Gallagher July 23, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    1. Who is Shakesphere?
    2. I’m mad at you for quoting Stephen King’s awesome paragraphs that conclude with washing the car. I totally have that page dog-eared, and I planned to put it on my blog. Thanks for nothing, thunder-stealer.
    3. I just found out yesterday that adverbs were bad. According to SK. I thought he made a decent case for it, but it kinda hurt my feelings. I agreed about the passive voice, however. Irks me, too.
    4. Really fantastic post! I like it better than when you said you hated me. Now I know it’s not me you hate, but my writing… wait. Oh, that still sucks.
    .-= Lainie Gallagher´s last blog ..Cowboy Wisdom =-.

    • katdish July 23, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

      You’re so silly. I love you AND I love your writing. You are good, my dear.

  16. Jake July 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    Kathy, there were so many good points in here. First, I just saw that you’re busy kicking Billy’s ass. Can I say that I want to watch? Yes, I can. Secondly, please… please, please PLEASE tell me you have a masterpiece sitting on the corner of your desk. I’m not even kidding, I would love it if you ever wrote a book. I feel like you’re on the cusp of really going for something, simply because you want to call yourself a writer, and you do, but at the same time, you seem to fight it… maybe I’m reading into this too much, I’m not sure. Either way, if you had a book, published or not, I’d send you money if you let me read it, because I know I’d love it.

    Next, I love “Live a better story. Then write a better story.” I think that’s entirely the right approach. Do you think Stephen King lives a totally awesome life then? because he’s full of great stories. Or, do you think his quality of living isn’t necessarily reflected in his writing, rather, he really does experience crap that’s scary as all bloody hell because his books are. I’m kidding with that one, it just makes me smile.

    Lastly, the contrast between not approaching a blank page lightly, but not having to do it reverently or unquestioningly… such a wonderful contrast. It really does make one realize that their words must carry some meaning, whatever it might be.

    Wonderful follow up. I’m hating writing lately, too. but you know. 🙂

    way to be. did you like the long response? Are you still reading, or is it like when one of your friends leaves you a long voicemail and you delete it halfway through? one of my buddies leaves long voicemails, but he ends them with some stupid password, and gets butt-hurt if I don’t tell him was it was. So cruel.

    ok. I’m done.
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..Freedom 1- Relativity =-.

    • katdish July 25, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

      Read the whole thing, Jake. “Gets butt-hurt” – Snort! That’s awesome.

      I’ve read that Stephen King has some pretty wicked nightmares, and that they go away when he’s writing, which probably accounts for the prolific amount of work he’s put out.

      The more seriously I take writing, the more I tend to examine myself and my motivation for why I write what I write. That gets kinda sucky sometimes, because we’re just so wretched. As far as writing a book? I dunno–we’ll see. I’m still getting used to making myself write everyday, but you never know. Stranger things have happened.

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