Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer -and What To Do About It - Part 13
If you have come so far as to have set up the rudiments of a writing life, you have done well - but there is still a little way to go. And it’s probably going to be a little gruelling.
What are the rudiments, first?
1. You have a lifestyle which enables you to write full-time.
By ‘full-time’, I mean approximately 30 hours a week, enough time to get some serious writing done. Less than that, and a degree of compulsive behaviour enters into things: you get a slight feeling of desperation when it comes to writing. Accompanying that feeling, perversely but almost inevitably, will be impulses to procrastinate. It’s as though the human mind is wired so that the more frantic we feel about something, the more likely we are to ‘bounce off’ that thing and go and seek some kind of diversion from it.
You probably don’t need a psychological study to convince yourself of the truth of this: just get uptight about writing and watch the procrastination kick in. So the solution is to arrange things so that you have so much time to write that you never really get frantic about it. If you get distracted for a moment - by social media, by emails, by those pointless things which usually distract you - it won’t matter that much. You’ll still have time to write.
2. You have finances organised to that the day-to-day routines of your household will hold together without pulling you off writing.
This means reducing your costs and possibly your material expectations of life, probably to a marked degree, as discussed in earlier articles. You may also have sold a lot of stuff to get out of debt, or moved into a smaller place, or inherited some money, or called upon a reserve of cash, or persuaded someone (usually a spouse) to support you in your efforts. Or all of the above. However you’ve done it, two things: firstly, well done - it’s not easy, nor is it a mean achievement; secondly, make the most of it, it’s quite rare.
3. You have procured cooperation.
If you haven’t already done so in the steps above, somehow you have communicated with those around you so that they have some idea what you are doing and don’t try to interrupt you or push you off course. Part of this may have included actually getting rid of, or putting some distance between, you and those people who continually undermine what you’re trying to do or make little of it or simply don’t understand it.
4. You have procured allies.
Apart from the above partners, close relatives and friends, this may well include other writers whom you have contacted through social media, people going through much the same kind of thing as yourself. These understanding folk are a bulwark against the wider world, which, let’s face it, probably won’t understand what you are trying to do at all.
You don’t have to convince the whole world - you just have to have a ‘zone’ in which you feel secure enough to write.
5. You have made your role known to a wider world.
This isn’t trying to convince anyone, but rather just an interaction with others. It means that, when people ask ‘What do you do?’ you have said ‘I’m a writer’ without flinching. This is easier to think about saying than actually saying. Often, at least at first, it comes with that little embarrassed clearing of the throat, as though you’re not quite sure, even as you say it, that you want the other person to hear it: ‘(ahem) I’m a writer…’ you say, letting the words float out in front of you like a butterfly that you hope will be greeted positively but which may well just be swatted away. You then watch the wheels rolling around in the other person’s eyes as they try to fabricate a suitable response. They probably want to be polite, but they are almost inevitably running through a series of prejudices: ‘Writing? That’s not a proper job, is it?’, ‘You’re probably on benefits, benefits that my taxes are paying for’, ‘Oh here’s someone who hasn’t confronted reality’, ‘Sitting at home watching telly, more like’ and so forth.
But it’s important to say it out loud. This isn’t even especially because you want them to know it - it’s because you want yourself to know it.
It gets easier. Eventually you will have no attention on it at all. And when that happens, neither will anyone else, except that some may say ‘Wow! That’s great! What sort of stuff do you write?’ and things like that.
Those are the rudiments. There may be more, but it’s almost a miracle if you’ve managed to get the above set up, so they will do for now.
But the word ‘rudiment’ comes from the Latin rudīmentum which means ‘early training, first experience, initial stage’, equivalent to rudi(s) ‘unformed, rough’ (see rude) + -mentum -ment. You’re still in the rough beginning stages of Level 5 of our seven stage ladder.
You’re still vulnerable.
Even if you have rock-solid foundations built around the above, the earth can still quake - and the cause of that shaking will probably not be external circumstances, but something from within yourself.
I can almost guarantee that there will still be some trace-impulse left within you that will act to undermine your own security, confidence and stability as a writer. You will still face an enemy, and, like Luke Skywalker in the cave in the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, or Ged the young wizard in Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic novel A Wizard of Earthsea, or countless other protagonists on quests, that enemy will be yourself.
This is the key question that you need to ask yourself:
‘What is it that I am doing which either runs completely counter to my goal to be a full-time writer or which acts as a self-generated distraction from that goal?’
Oh my goodness that can be a hard one to answer. You’re supposed to have gotten rid of or shifted to one side all the procrastination-fodder that was getting in your way, right? You’ve arranged your life according to your goal, yes? So why should something remain, something deep and dark, to stop you now?
Because that’s the way human beings are built.
If you had the goal of being a dentist or being a pilot or being an acrobat with the circus, it would be the same. Human beings seem to be composed of conflicting elements - it’s almost what makes us human by definition. Everyone you know is quirky in some way, right? Great authors like Shakespeare are able to capture the spread of possibilities which every human being contains without someone jumping up and saying ‘That’s out of character!’ - because great authors are crafting characters from their raw components, and those components include contradictory aims and actions.
Becoming a full-time writer and reaching the top of this ladder won’t make you a perfect human being. You’re not going to be able to excise all the contradictions and contrarinesses in your personality. The ladder isn’t towards sainthood (and if you look at the saints closely, none of them were perfect either). But you will need to become more self-aware and self-disciplined than you probably thought possible.
Here’s a clue: the thing you’re looking for to answer the question above isn’t going to be something like ‘I spend too long sharpening pencils’ or ‘I like to go on long morning walks’. No - it’s going to be something directly contrary to your writing goals.
It will be something dishonest - by which I mean dishonest to yourself, rather than directly criminal. And you will probably know what it is, but were hoping all along that it wasn’t going to come up. You wanted to secretly harbour this one, and somehow slip it through into your future as a successful writer. But, whatever it is, it won’t let you be successful and is actively working against success.
Heavy stuff, eh?
Here’s the thing, though: if you can get through this bit, it’s all downhill from there. Or rather uphill: things get easier and more fun.
Getting rid of your inner shadow and then taking steps to make sure it never returns is like accomplishing a quest. You can become the king or queen of yourself now. The rest is cake.
And in the next article in this series we’re going to be baking that cake.