Unrevealed Secrets of the Professional Writer

The Problem

It's very easy to believe that there has to be some kind of secret when it comes to writing - specifically fiction writing. Even more specifically, professional fiction writing. I mean, I sit in front of a laptop, sometimes, and try to write. Or I sit at a book that looks a lot like this one, and try to write. And it's hard.

The writing itself isn't so hard, but the gearing up for writing. When I get it underway, it's actually pretty enjoyable, scraping down my thoughts, or clicking away at whatever keyboard is sitting in front of me. But in between times, there's a million distractions, a million reasons I shouldn't waste my time with writing, and I can spin a lack of motivation into an evening on twitter or instagram in thoughtless oblivion without anyone else's help.

But there are so many books on the library's shelves, and every single one of those books represents all of those problems overcome -- all of the lack of motivation, all of the self-doubt, and all of the rest of life successfully navigated, not only through a first draft, but through all of the revisions, line-edits, and copy-edits that make a book worth reading. And those are the rare ones. Is it ten-to-one, the ratio of books written to books published? I suspect the number skews even higher, but I don't actually have any data on that, so I'll stop my baseless guessing. At any rate, that's a lot of books.

The Secret Sauce

So there has to be a secret, right? Some formula, some incantation, that puts the words on the page, that makes those words magical. There has to be something.

Well... based on my own paltry research, which exclusively involves listening to the words that professional writers have to say on the subject, the only answer that is consistently given is that there is no shortcut. One word after the other, all in a line, until that line is finished, then you start again at the next line. Wash, rinse, repeat, until you've finished a page. Then you do that again. Until you're done for the day. Then you get up, do your thing until it's time for writing again. Then you get back to it, one word at a time, one line, one page, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

A Brief Aside

When I started running, like 3k, 4k at a time, I was in pretty good shape. I mean, I had some pounds I could afford to lose, but I'd just successfully navigated an outdoor soccer season, I was riding my bike to work every day, and I had my diet pretty well under control. But when it came to distance running, I struggled. I struggled so much that I would think about quitting, think about taking a longer walk break, think about just giving up on running forever, pretty much every time I went out. But it made no sense. There were people in worse shape than me who had way better attitudes and way better tenacity. Which was a hit to my ego, which actually helped me get over that bump. I think that writing a novel is a lot like distance running was for me at first.

You take a couple of steps, of course you've got the whole run ahead of you. But then you get going. And you start to think about distance. And you start to think about how long it's been. And if you're doing the Running Room special, which is 5 minutes running, and one minute walking ,then ten and one, then I don't know, because I stopped paying attention there, then you start thinking about when your next walk break is. And then you look at your watch and realize you've only gone fifty steps. Then you keep going, and while your body is warming up, it really sucks. You're out of breath, everything hurts, and it's really demoralizing, because aren't you out there to stop this kind of thing from happening? But then, you're like the guy with not enough to do, half an hour before it's time to go home. And the theory of relativity kicks in, and your run, which you were so jazzed for at first, or at least not so miserable about, begins to take FOREVER. Eventually, I got to the point where my mindset changed. I stopped being impatient about the goal and just ran.

Endurance Race

So you're writing one word at a time, and you're typing pretty fast. And you maybe lose yourself in dialogue, and you look up, and the place where you started writing isn't even on the screen anymore, or even better, you've turned a page and are scribbling on the next one. Then you realize, that was only like 400 words. And this novel, any novel, really, isn't complete, shy of maybe 50000 words. So you keep typing. But then the next time you look, you're only at 600 words. Then 800. Then you start to wonder if this thing will ever be done. You being me. I do this. I get impatient for the end of the story. And then every little bit of what I'm writing drags, slows down, and starts to feel like maybe it sucks.

The Real Secret Sauce

That's the difference between a professional writer and me. A professional writer will plunk their ass down in the wobbly kitchen chair and hammer away at the keyboard, even on the days when it feels like there's nothing to say, even when the best they can squeak out is 300 words that they know will be revised away eventually, because it's their job. I understand that, to some extent, because there are days when I just can't make the requirements line up with the code. But I plunk my ass down and make it happen, make it work, even if it sucks, then make it better. That's how professional writers write, according to twitter and interviews and podcasts and semi-autobiographical writing guides. Sure, they might be lying. The self-interested person in me thinks that it's probably easier for them to sell a book if there are fewer writers out there, but 98% of me thinks that's bullshit, and that there's just no magic sauce.

That's all I got, for the very little it's worth. Hearsay and speculation. But hey, it's better than nothing.