Monday, October 10, 2011

"Do or do not! There is no try."

One of the more common themes I see as I hop around the bloggypads is that of people waiting for inspiration to strike. Or for some muse or other to show up. Considering the number of muses that must be roaming around out there at this point, I have a hard time thinking that there aren't plenty to go around. Or people hopping from one project to the next because new inspiration has struck. Maybe it's little muses on writers' shoulders whispering in their ears like angels and demons. No wonder no one can stick to anything.

I get it. I do. Writing is hard. Really hard. Not all writing, of course. Some of it's really easy, but that's not generally the kind of writing you can make a living doing. Writing a novel, though, is hard. People don't appreciate how hard it is to write a book, because most people can write. Not a book, but, you know, they can write. They do teach it in school, after all. It's like running. Pretty much everyone can run if they have to. Most people don't like running (like me), so they never do it. Some people feel it's necessary, so they jog or whatever to keep healthy. Some people have to be able to run as part of a job whether they like the running aspect or not. Some people enjoy running, though (the fools!), and they run for fun going out at the butt crack of dawn when all reasonable people are warm in bed. Some people, though, enjoy it so much they make it more than just a hobby. They do things like run marathons. And writing a book is like running a marathon.

The real issue with writing is that most of the people I see through their blogs want to run a marathon, but they're still busy treating their writing like a morning jog. In other words, they like doing it, but, you know, it's too cold, today, so I'm going to stay in. Or I'm just feeling a bit lazy, today, so I'm going to sit and have some more coffee. Or they go on their jog, but they never really push themselves. They run just enough to feel good and pat themselves on the back, but they never really make the effort to go farther or faster. Staying in one's comfort zone is, after all, comfortable.

Like I said, I get it. I started my first book back during my college days. I was actually on hiatus from school and working as a glorified babysitter called a substitute teacher. I did a lot of reading that year, but, also, I started writing a book. It was about a dragon. I still think it's a good story, and I may have it buried somewhere, but, really, I didn't get very far into it. Basically, as soon as I started getting winded, I said that's enough. I let it sit around and sit around and never got back to it. That was almost 20 years ago. It was a nice morning jog that didn't go anywhere.

I've had several of those over the years. Heck, I have (or had) notebooks full of stuff back in high school and college. Unfortunately, more than a small amount of that is poetry, but we're just gonna move on past that. [Really, one of these days, I'll get around to talking about poetry.] The problem was that I wanted to head out on a morning jog and have it end up a marathon. Somehow, I'd get into the zone and just run and run and, at some point, realize I'd done the whole 26 miles. And writers do this, too. They sit down at their keyboard and start writing and hope (for lack of a better term) that inspiration will strike and they will be filled to bursting with words and before they know it, there's a whole, perfect book in front of them.

It just doesn't work that way. Not unless you're Coleridge and taking illegal substances, and you can see how well that turned out for him.

What it really comes down to is that if you want to be a writer, you have to treat it like it's your job. The biggest thing about a job is that you have to do it no matter how you feel. Well, you do if you want to get paid. I don't know of any jobs that continue to pay you if you only show up to work when you feel inspired to do so. If you know of any, please let me know what they are! At any rate, if you want to be a writer, you have to show up to work. Period.

It's about being proactive. Don't wait for inspiration to come to you; go and get it. If you work at it, you'll discover that you have inspired moments, and the more you work at it, the more often those will occur. When you just sit around waiting for them to come... well, that's kind of like waiting to be struck by lightning. Yes, it happens, but, really, do you actually know anyone that's been struck by lightning? It is possible, though, to make the lightning come to you, but that's where the effort comes in.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how to do it. I can tell you what did it for me (actually, I did that, already, way back in this post), but you have to figure out your own trick about how to get serious. Set aside specific time for it. Set word count goals. Whatever it is, you have to do it. See, the real key is that it has to come from inside. And that's the main difference from waiting for lightning and catching lightning. One is external and one is internal. You can't do it until you internalize it. Like going on a diet.

Because going on a "diet" is external. You expect the "diet" to work some kind of magic on you and change you without you really having to do anything. Diets only work when the person puts in the effort, and, then, the particular diet doesn't matter. Any diet will do; they're just different plans to get you to the same place, but you have to follow the plan.

I love the old movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. [No, I do not love the book nor do I love the newer version of the film.] Wouldn't it be great to be Charlie and have all your dreams come true through no effort of your own. Just have some benevolent being look down, see your worth, and grant all your wishes. That's what waiting for inspiration to strike is like. Liek Charlie waiting to find the Golden Ticket; although, even Charlie had to go to the effort to buy the candy bar, and it seems like even that's a bit too much effort for some people these days. But wouldn't that story have been so much more interesting if, instead of waiting for a golden ticket, Charlie had taken matters into his own hands and sneaked into the factory himself? If he had done something to make it happen.

Not to steal a slogan from a popular athletic line, but you really have to just do it. You have to make the decision. You have to put in the effort. You have to get to work. Make it your job. Even if that means making it your second job. Or your third. If you want it, you have to do it. Because, in the end, in the wise words of a particular little green guy:

"Do or do not. There is no try."


  1. You are absolutely right! For instance I had meetings and appointments all day, so that means I am locking myself up in my office at home and writing till my fingers bleed tonight!

    Just got to make it happen, and happen every day!

  2. The thing I love most about reading your blog is the motivation I get out of it. You always have the best analogies, and put a positive spin on pretty much anything. Thanks for the Monday boost! :)

  3. You said show up, but half the time, I feel like I'm waiting for my muse to 'throw' up. She's a lush and a tart, but she's all mine.

  4. All very true! I find specific goals keep me going. I stumbled for a bit, because I wasn't sure how to set goals that would work for editing and still keep me going, but I think I've got that down now and I've finally gotten back into it after the summer slump. I get frustrated every time I read a comment/blog that says that "some day" they'll start writing. Because I know some day was what I waited for forever until I finally grabbed it with both hands and jumped in. But I don't know what that spark is for each person to jump in themselves, and it's frustrating not to be able to help.

  5. This is perfect timing for me. I had a bad week last week. I knew what I was writing wasn't good enough. I ended up having a very long talk with myself the result of which is that right now, it's the writing that's important. The good enough can be edited in. What's important is that I keep doing it.

  6. Very True. I am one of those people who keep waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen. And I LOVE Willy Wonka and I totally wish I was Charlie but not for the fulfilled dreams part but because I could have all day access to tons and tons of chocolate!

  7. You win all things because you quoted Yoda in the title of this post. And you are also the biggest nerd west of the Mississippi.

  8. My muse is time. Give me an hour and I'm inspired. But I really think a lot of the hoops writers go through are just things to trick ourselves into writing.

    Whatever it takes.

  9. Bonnie: Yes, you have to make it happen. Because, well, no one else can, right?

    J: You're welcome :) Glad I can be motivational, even when I'm not trying to be. heh
    Wait till tomorrow's post, though. I wouldn't say there'll be anything positive in it.

    Beer: Hey, if you can use muse puke, I say go for it!

    Shannon: Yeah, that's really the thing: "some day" never just happens. Not until the person realizes that it's not going to just happen and takes control.

    Sarah: Glad I could show up on time. :)
    And don't underestimate your writing just because you think it isn't any good.

    Jennifer: See, I'm glad I'm not Charlie for that same reason. I'd eat all of it and end up looking like Agustus.

    Michael: Only on the west side? Darn! I'm gonna have to try harder.
    Yoda is the containment vessel of all wisdom.

    Rusty: Yep, I certainly have to have my own tricks to get me going. It almost always begins with a game or two of free cell. But, yeah, whatever it takes.
    And time.

  10. You nailed it with this post. If you're going to be serious, if it's important to you, it is a job. You have to treat it that way, or you'll never finish what you start. Lots of this gig is fun, but there are hard parts. I think one thing that sets serious writers apart is that seeing that finished project and getting that rush of having created something is worth all of the time, effort, energy, etc. I love that feeling. :)

  11. J.R.: Wait! There are fun parts? Where are the fun parts? I didn't get any fun parts in my kit!