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The perils of internet advice

Writers get lots of questions about writing. There’s a certain glamor about the profession, and lots and lots of people think they’d like to write someday. One of the most common questions seems to be: how do you find time and inspiration to write. The most common answer writers give is that there’s no magic answer, that if you want to write, you have to spend time writing. And you have to write every day.

The most recent iteration is John Scalzi’s essay, and the agreements and disagreements it has spawned.

Every time I read this kind of thing, especially the dictum that you must write every day, I get all angsty about it. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I’m not a writer. Maybe I need to do everything differently. (Jess. Don’t say anything until you read the rest!) I finally figured out why I react so badly to that particular advice.

They’re not talking to me.

I have a plan, a clear vision of where I want to be in two years, five years, twenty years. I know what role I want writing fiction to play in my life, and I devote time and attention to it in proportion to that role.

I recognize the tradeoffs inherent in that decision, and accept them. I would get better faster if I wrote fiction every day. (Probably.) I would finish things faster if I wrote fiction every day.

I don’t write fiction every day. I quite probably never will. I don’t even write fiction on a regular schedule. But I do write fiction. I am getting better, learning, studying, critiquing. I’m starting to publish. I’m working toward my goals.

There are parts of the standard internet writer advice that are dead on. If you want to do something, you have to do it. And if you want to be good at something, you have to work at it. You have to make time for practice and study and reflection. The standard advice is that the easiest way to do it is to trim off the tv, the video games, the wasted time.

I’ve done that, but I’ve done it for a package. I don’t write fiction every day, but I work every day on the things I need to do to achieve my goals. I long ago shed the illusion that getting to do what you want means never having to work. It’s work, and hard, and I do it even when I don’t want to. But it’s what I want and need to be doing.

Even if it isn’t what random strangers on the internet suggest.

You shouldn’t listen to me either. You should choose for yourself where you want to go, and how you want to get there, and how fast. Choose for yourself what you are willing to give up, and what tradeoffs are acceptable.

Then get to work.

One Comment

  1. Jess says:

    I didn’t say anything! I read it!

    In a strange way I think the understanding that They’re not talking to me can be one of the hardest things to bend the mind around. It means having to divorce the ego from the act of writing, and accept that one is essentially working alone. Internet advice is seductive: if someone else appears to be shouting at us about doing it wrong, or not enough, it allows us to maintain the illusion that someone else cares whether or not we succeed. It takes courage to admit that no one’s actually policing us, and that the comparisons between ourselves and those who do things “properly” are meaningless. But if you can admit it to yourself, it’s liberating: once you do, there’s nothing but you and the work left. And so you get on with it.