Friday, August 9, 2013

The Writer's Toolbox



Want to be a real, honest-to-gosh writer?

Here's what you need:

1. A really rad computer loaded with software.
Preferably an up-to-date MacBook Pro with Word and Scrivener. Also, Moleskine notebooks, antique typewriters, and a fancy fountain pen that uses real ink.

2. A dedicated writing space. 
Your office/studio will need an ergonomic chair, high-speed internet, and noise-blocking headphones.

3. Time set aside only for your writing.
In fact, all serious writers quit their day job immediately to focus on their art.

4. A full schedule of writing-related outings, conferences, book launch parties, and lectures.
Be sure to build in down time consisting of absolute media and social silence.


HA HA HA. KIDDING.

That's a bunch of crap.

First of all, you don't need anyone's permission to be a writer.

If you write, you're a writer. 
If you get paid to write, you're a professional writer. 
And wherever you are, you should act like a professional. 

Done?

Done.

Now, let's get down to what you ACTUALLY need to be a writer by amending that list.

1. You need whatever tools will let you do what you need to do. 
Start with what you have, use it until it doesn't work anymore, and then reevaluate. I know people who write in longhand, who write on iPads on the subway, who stick Post-It notes all over their refrigerators. I take lots of notes on index cards that pepper all the pertinent areas of my house, and I use free word processing software from Open Office. You don't need anything special. The expensiveness of your toys does not legitimize your craft.

But you'll probably need coffee, at some point. Trust me on this.

2. You need to learn to write anywhere, or at least wherever is available.
If your writing can only happen in a holy space of absolute silence, you need to loosen up, buttercup. Find hacks to make your writing something that can happen anywhere. Some people do need a close approximation of silence, thanks to headphones, while others like a TV on in the background or a playlist singing softly through earbuds. Although I have trouble writing around my children, I can now write in a coffee shop, on an airplane, in the passenger seat of a car. Writing is not some fickle muse that can be scared away by an imperfect setting; you are the person in charge.

3. Do not quit your day job. Squeeze your writing into the spaces in between. Make time for it.
I hear people who want to write bemoan how little time they have, but then they tell me how they did on Words with Friends this morning or how great last night's Duck Dynasty was. If you want to do something, you'll find time for it. You'll set the alarm an hour early or stay up a little late or eat lunch at your desk while tapping away on your tablet. Writing is work, yes. But if it's something you think of as a treat, what you look forward to, you can always find some time to do it. It's not frivolous or silly; it's a passion, an art, a skill that requires butt-in-chair-time to develop. Take it seriously. Make your friends and family take it seriously, or at least respect that you do. Put in the time.

4. Live your life. Talk to people. Go places. See movies. Read. Then write.
Writers can't just write about writing and talk about writing and mill among writers like a herd of inky wildebeest. Stories are not born in bubbles. You have to live a life worth writing about, or at least listen to other people talk about lives worth writing about. Have adventures. Learn something new. Take a new road. Try a new hobby. The harder you work your brain, the better it will be at plotting and character and dialog. And you know what? Maybe you're an introvert, or maybe you live in a new place and are shy. So what? Find your people online, or read articles that interest you. Just scroll through tumblr or Pinterest. Your brain can't tell the difference between information gleaned from a chalkboard, a book, the internet, or a person's mouth. It's all about building connections and feeding your noodle so that you can milk it later. If you floop your pig into a cave of solitude, you're not going to grow as a person or a writer.

That being said, the occasional writing-centered outing or con can help replenish your mojo and encourage you to take the next step in your writing. Personally, I highly recommend the Crossroads Writers Conference in Macon, GA October 4-6-- not only because I'm a speaker there, but because I had a seriously amazing time last year and would consider it the top writing-related activity I've ever attended. On the drive home, I came up with my Next Big Idea, which I'm currently 60k into writing. Instead of focusing on how to get an agent or why you need to self-publish, Crossroads smacks you in the feel bone with inspiration for fleshing out ideas, pursuing new genres, finishing your first book, dealing with revisions and rejections, and generally floundering through a career that has no real road map.

Wanting to be a writer is easy. Actually being a writer can be hard.

The main point is this: THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO WRITE.

And anyone who tries to sell you a line of "You're not a writer unless you..." is:



*

p.s. That's Lying Cat, an amazing character from the SAGA comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Guess what he says every time someone lies?

Brilliant writing, that.

3 comments:

Carol McKenzie said...

#2...I've written in tattoo shops, while my son was getting work done. I did not, however, write will getting my tattoo. I'm not quite _that_ dedicated yet...or able to type one handed.

Matthew MacNish said...

The only reason I haven't quit my day job yet is that I occasionally get to sneak some writing in, on the clock.

Shhh, mofos! You can't tell anyone.

EttyOop said...

I may have possibly spent my lunchtimes writing in my classroom on numerous occasions. Also during planning periods, after I got the rest of my work done.

Also, I've written on a laptop, on a tablet, and on a tiny notepad with very sharp pencils.

I need to get off my butt and be writing now, actually (publisher interest in my WIP!!!), but I haven't had the mental energy of late. Apparently what I need in order to write? Is a house that is not a disaster.


All the above being said? This is an awesome post and I love it. And I so wish I could be at Crossroads!!