Are you a ‘true’ writer or a happy writer? Is it possible to be both? In this guest post, Gemma Hawdon argues that the Five Habits Of Highly Successful Authors that we’ve had drilled into us may not be true at all. In fact, they could be seriously injurious to our peace of mind.
Recently, I questioned my sincerity as a true writer.
You see, I returned from a five-week trip to Europe with a blank notebook. I didn’t write a word. Not even one. I roamed the cobbled streets of French villages; climbed steep, wind-swept hills in Wales; visited the cathedrals of England… without the desire to write a single word.
Surely a true writer would have flipped out her notebook to record her observations? Scenery that inspired the setting for her next book, characters, amusing incidents, history… a true writer wouldn’t last one day, let alone five weeks without scribbling at least a sentence. Would she?
Yet I didn't sink into a pit of emptiness. I didn't crack through lack of creative expression. In fact - just between you and me - I kind of welcomed the break.
It terrified me at first. Was I not passionate enough? Not committed enough? Was I not a true writer?
What do ‘true’ writers do, I asked myself?
1. Live by quotes like “I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die.” Isaac Asimov.
2. Are always thinking about their work. You can spot them at the supermarket standing in the middle of the aisle talking to themselves. Or in a café, jotting down notes whilst eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.
3. Are tortured souls, irritable when not writing, often acquiring a nervous tick and snapping at random strangers in the street.
4. Use any opportunity to practice the craft, slipping complex words into ordinary sentences and turning everyday events into epic adventures. A walk to the park, for example, becomes a ‘perilous trek through the wilderness.’
Above all, true writers don’t feel alive unless they’re writing. Do we?
I began to question my future as a writer altogether when I reminded myself of one important thing. Since my return from a trip in which I didn’t write a word, I’ve been more excited, more passionate, more willing to write than ever before.
Yet before the trip, I felt drained, lethargic and uninspired. I’d just spent two years in hibernation completing a children’s manuscript, juggling a day job, writing a blog, a journal, web content for clients… I didn’t want to look at another screen for at least a decade!
Now, I’m refreshed - bursting with ambition and energy. I’m brainstorming ideas for future projects, writing short stories, guest posts even.
It’s taught me a valuable lesson.
Writing doesn't have to be a life or death choice. It can be flexible and periodic. There will be times when we write with intensity, passion and commitment, and there’ll be times when we choose to take a break.
Of course, the harder we work the more success we’re likely to have. Writing is a competitive industry and it takes determination and a degree of perfectionism to succeed. But we’re all different. We each get there in our own way.
So, I have redefined my five bullet points listed above. I will no longer be tortured by feelings of doubt and guilt!
My five top tips for being a happy writer are:
1. Don’t feel obligated to write every single day of your life. You will, at times, feel overwhelmed and sick-to-death of it. You’re entitled to take a break now and then.
2. Understand that writing is only one part of you. You’re also a friend, a lover, a parent… a gardener perhaps. It’s all these other parts that provide your inspiration and make your writing unique and interesting.
3. Write however and wherever you like! Some writers like to work in the morning, some at night. Some like to write in cafes, on the train, in the toilet... although frankly, that’s just unhygienic.
4. Be present in the world. Write, create but also live! After all, in the words of Author Henry David Thoreau: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
5. Never let yourself get to the point when you’re burnt out, with nothing left to say. Take Hemingway’s wise words of advice:
“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there is still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”Like anything in life, it’s about balance.
When the scales tip too far to one side, we can lose perspective, satisfaction. So, my apologies, Isaac Asimov, writing for me is not like breathing. And I may not be a true writer, but I'm a happy writer.
I'll leave you with a simple quote by the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley:
“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility.”How about you? Are you a 'true' writer or a happy writer? And is it (really) possible to be both? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Gemma Hawdon lives in Melbourne, Australia. She writes articles, guest posts and short stories and has just completed a MG children’s fantasy book. She also writes a blog, Top Of The Slush Pile, which documents the adventures of writing a book and trying to get published.
Find her at Twitter: @gemmaleehawdon
Posted by Gemma Hawdon. Posted In : Guest Posts