5 Ways to Stay a Writer

ellison writerThis quote by one of my favorite writers (Harlan Ellison) is irrevocably true.  How many students have I taught to write over the years who most likely do not use that skill now that they are adults?  I’m sure the number is more than I’m willing to admit.

I consider myself a pretty prolific writer.  I’ve been writing since I was 15, and now that I am in my 40’s with a full-on career and a large family taking up most of my time, I have to make time to write.  I do this because I simply love it, but there have been times when I’ve thought about quitting, times when I start thinking that this thing I love to do is just a hobby, something to be cast aside when I grow tired of it.

I haven’t done this yet because thankfully there are five methods or techniques I use to keep myself focused and working on the next novel or the next short story.

Here they are:

  1. The Long-Term Goal – I feel (realistically) that I have at least 10 good novels inside my head, including the ones I’ve already written.  Five of those are a series of books set in a fictional universe of my own design.  I have a long term goal to complete them, sort of like a bucket list, and I feel like if I don’t complete them then those stories will rattle around in my head until they drive me mad.  They must come out of me.  What every writer needs to stay a writer is to have a long-term goal.  Ask yourself how many books you would like to write in your lifetime.  Is it an attainable goal?  I have planned out the entire list…and unfortunately it’s growing (it’s now up to 15) and since I plan on finishing these stories before they drive me mad, I keep writing.
  2. The Short-Term Goal – Some writers set their sights too high, trying to achieve that long form novel during NaNoWriMo or over the summer while they are not in school.  This is problematic sometimes because we often bite off more than we can chew.  We need to have short term goals as writers that are attainable.  I have a short term goal to finish the backstory, pre-history, flora, fauna and ecosystem of six solar systems before Thanksgiving Day.  I know that this is an attainable goal.  Don’t set goals for yourself that you know you can’t realistically reach.
  3. Haters Gonna Hate – Some writers quit writing because they get some negative criticism…or they get a lot of negative criticism.  Some of them quit because they write a novel and no one reads it or buys it, except maybe their friends and family.  This is a tough hurdle to overcome because as writers we want our stories to resonate with total strangers.  We want to sell books, to be best sellers, to find our niche in the ever growing indie market.  We have to face facts: learn from the critics, best selling authors make up less than 1% of the writers in the world, and your friends and family love you enough to buy a novel you wrote.  Push on.  Something within you needs to be shared with people, even if you sell a few copies of it.
  4. The Real World – My biggest hurdle as a writer is that I teach English full time in a high school.  I also manage an alternative education program and am the online schooling coordinator.  I also have four children and an awesome wife who lets me go off by myself, turn on the bluetooth headphones and crank away on my laptop for an hour or so a night.  It is tough being a part time writer.  Sometimes you start feeling like it is nothing but a hobby and not your real love.  Last summer I went through a funk where I didn’t write much at all.  I’d just finished Come Apart, it wasn’t selling very well (one or two a week) and I felt like I was out of ideas.  I started writing short stories to get myself back in the swing of things, and after cranking out four or five weird tales, I hit upon an idea for a 5 to 6 book series.  Life kicks writers in the chin, but the best thing to do with it is to write about it, to journal about it, and to get back up and write.
  5. Love and Ink – The main question you have to ask yourself is: “Do I really love this?”  It took me an entire summer to figure that out.  I have a friend that I podcast with, an author of a couple of really good pirate books (Ryan McKinley) who has been in a funk for much longer than that.  We often talk about it on the podcast.  I suppose the answer for me is that I realized that if I didn’t have to be an English teacher, didn’t have to do all the stuff I do for a real job, I’d get up in the morning, take my kids to school, go find a library somewhere and write all day long.  How much do you love writing?  I think it is a good question to ask if you want to stay a writer.

What do you think?  What is it that keeps you from throwing in the towel and quitting?  Comment below!

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8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stay a Writer

  1. Reblogged this on Lynn Reynolds – Author and commented:
    In the absence of time to do my own original blogging (due to writing an actual book and magazine articles galore now that I am free of Froghammer) – here is a brief, brilliant observation from one of the truly great, original Speculative fiction authors alive (still!) – enjoy!

  2. I loved writing as a teenager, and I gave up on it because of fear and self-doubt. Who knows where I would be now had I stuck with it? Now I am in my forties and I write every single day, at least a thousand words, oftentimes more. So glad I finally allowed myself to do what I love!

    • I’m in the same boat. I don’t think I wrote at all in college, except in creative writing classes. I stopped writing all together after college and didn’t pick it up until I had been married a while and had a few kids. Now I write all the time…any time I get a chance.

  3. Well said, as usual. I’ve been in a writing funk lately, not so much that I’m not writing (I’m still wrapping up the third draft of my WiP) but that I’m wondering “what’s the point?” I believe that I write at a pretty high level (I’d better, since that’s my day job), but good fiction is the unicorn of writing. You can do all the right things, be all you can be as a storyteller, and still miss the target. Or be met with resounding indifference.

    I’d quit doing it, but then what? i already put too much time into it.

    • Yes. I’ve put WAY too much time into it to stop now. I have so much more to say, more to share with others. Sometimes I feel like the title of the Ellison story “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream”.

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