Tips,  Writer's life,  Writing

Writing about writing

When writing tips are on the loose. By Ian Lahey

What is writing to you? Is it a form of therapy, a necessity, a productive hobby or your main source of income? The way we write can, sometimes, be defined by the answer to that question.

The hobby writer has a life, a family and a job. Writing’s fun. Selling your book is a nice surprise and the extra money can be a nice bonus for, say, a night out or a new collar for Jerome, the fictitious labrador.

The professional writer has a life and a job as well. Both of them revolve around writing. Selling books is what you do and the money, good money, feeds you, your family and Jerome. It also fuels the constant investment in advertising, especially online, without which the books would quickly lose ranks and visibility, drowned by the millions of indie competitors out there.

The therapy writer’s a mess. Writing may or may not be something you enjoy doing. You do it because it either keeps you sane, it shuts the voices up or, simply, is the one thing that gives you a nice buzz. Money’s nice, yeah, rankings and all that, but what you really care about is getting the story out of your head before it explodes, killing the evil characters and making all the other characters happy so they stop arguing with you about who else you should have killed. Also that damn fictitious dog keeps barking so now Jerome’s a cat.

With me so far? Good. What happens then when the writing stops? When the unmentionable, unthinkable, abominable beast with a blank screen face and Facebook thumbs for hands: Writer’s Block, Bane of all Writers, Devourer of Sequels and inexorably immune to all those “you should be writing” memes, hits?

The hobby writer doesn’t give a damn, does he? Happy soul. He’ll take up golfing or gardening. Jerome will get cheaper kitty snacks and, now that he’s a cat, no need to buy those shit baggies too. Hobby writer has it all.

Professional writer is in a bit of a squeeze. New books need to turn out or sales will slowly start to decline and then, below a certain threshold, marketing expenses will not be sustainable. The professional writer is smart though: old books can be presented again in shiny new covers, maybe a boxed set with a new foreword. Oblivion can be forestalled long enough to snap back out of the momentary phase. Because it is momentary, just a phase. Inspiration will come. You got this.

Therapy writer’s basically screwed. Writer’s block doesn’t shut the characters up. It pisses them off. Imagine watching a film where the actors suddenly run out of script and start staring at you from the screen instead. And you can’t turn it off because it’s a cinema and now the audience is grumbling too.

Also, Jerome wants out.

So the therapy writer has to deal with an angry mob of imaginary characters picketing outside the imaginary cinema, together with the imaginary readers, (and if you have real readers who start emailing you because they’re waiting for your next book, you’re really up the creek), and a growing sense of guilt and utter uselessness which makes it even harder to snap out of the block.

You convince yourself you’re a fraud. You can’t write, and even if you do, nobody reads your shit anyway.

Luckily there is a way out, a therapy. And therapy writers feel right at home with that. We just sit in front of the keyboard and tap out whatever’s on our minds. No planning, no editing.

Write about what you had for breakfast, about the stunning attractive person you exchanged glances with on the bus on the way from work.

Write about writing.

Blog about it. You’ll feel better, because you can.

It works.

Meow.

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