Today, I take a break from career advice to talk about excuses like ‘I want to become a writer but don’t have anything to say’ and other excuses preventing you from becoming a writer.
I wrote this article for myself to remind myself of all the excuses and lies I tell myself, preventing me from actually trying to write something meaningful.
#1 You need to have something to say
I work in advertising. One thing I’ve learned is that the ideas and stories come once you start creating and pushing through the cliche garbage at the top of your mind. You will never create a story until you take that first stab.
I read an interesting interview with George R. R. Martin, the original author of the Game of Thrones series. He said that his novels began with a single scene in his mind. It’s not like he invented the entire world and plot-lines before he ever started.
Ideas come to those who start. Start creating. The big ideas will follow.
#2 You need to be a genius
When I was 13, I read a book about a boy who survived a nuclear holocaust and traveled through the dead world to find the ocean. It wasn’t written by a genius. It was a simple story with typical characters. Yet, I loved it at the time and if I ever met the author I would thank her.
There are stupider people than you out there selling books on Amazon. Good for them.
You don’t need to reinvent the literary form.
You don’t need to have an amazing new philosophy.
You don’t need to be any smarter than you are.
The only thing you need to do is to be mildly interesting. You might not win any national awards or be hailed as the voice of your generation, but you’ll be read and complete your dream.
#3 You need to read more books
“I’m very suspicious of people who say they want to be writers and yet never read fiction,” I heard a writer once say.
You do need to know and copy structure. But there is a danger in this advice. I find that it becomes an excuse. If I just studied one more plot or absorbed one more unique voice, I could create something of my own.
Two hours of actually trying to write something will always teach you more than reading Zadie Smith.
#4 Literature is only worth your time
I’m sick to death of urban realism. You should write a book that excites you, not a literary masterpiece.
Think back to when you were 12. When you didn’t face the pressures of adulthood–what did you like to create? What did you like to read?
I’ve always loved science fiction. Yet, I’ve felt that I should write literary stuff. I’ve always loved writing poetic songs on my guitar, yet feel that I should write upbeat pop melodies.
You need to create for the pleasure of creating. Ignore everything else.
#5 I can’t write dialogue
Writing dialogue is a skill. Most of the writing you do in school and life is exposition. Very few situations have ever required you to write dialogue. We shouldn’t be surprised that dialogue is the weakest part of our writing. We never write it.
#6 I don’t have a good story to tell
Have you written a shitty 50,000 word draft? If not, you haven’t really tried to tell a story. Create and you’ll likely discover the story halfway through. You can then rewrite and tighten.
#7 My story isn’t unique or original
Life of Pi was based on a short story the author found. Shakespeare always had some borrowed structure. Even Clueless was based on Austen’s 1815 novel Emma.
Stop obsessing about originality. Go and find a structure that already exists. Elect that as your blueprint and then give it some new paint.
#8 Novels are too long and complex to write
Write a short story. Or write a shorter novel.
#9 I’ll never find a publisher or anyone to validate my work
You should write because the activity makes you happy. You have a desire to create. To deny that desire is to take away something that could give you meaning and aesthetic pleasure. Give yourself permission to create. Even if what you create is a horrible piece of shit. You’ll at least write away the regret. You might not be the best writer in the world but you are a creator. You want to turn nothing into order and form.
Anybody who desires to create should be admired and encouraged.
#10 I don’t have an idea for a novel
Why do you have to write a novel? Why literature? I’ve read tons of great non-fiction that I wish I wrote. Just because you don’t have an idea for a movie or novel doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write.
#11 I don’t have the time
Find two hours a week. Everyone has two hours a week to dedicate to something that makes them happy.