Chasing “The Writer”

I get that Stephen King is very, very, very successful.  I get that any writer, myself included, would be lucky to achieve that level of success and influence.  I even get that, if you’re going to learn how to be a successful writer, you could do a lot worse than emulate King.

I just don’t believe you HAVE to emulate King to be a successful writer.  Or that King has mastered some esoteric secret that you MUST know in order to be a successful writer.  You could substitute plenty of successful writers for King.  It doesn’t really matter.  Almost every aspiring writer has their personal hero, someone they aspire to be one day in terms of influence and / or commercial success.  Regardless of the name, the idea is still the same.  That BLANK has become the archetypical THE WRITER and that whatever he / she does must be the archetypical THE WRITER thing to do.

I know it sounds contrary.  And I’m not suggesting that copying your personnal hero’s example is a bad idea.  Not in theory, anyway.

But there’s a problem, too.  If you believe you MUST do something to be THE WRITER (other than write) then you’ll probably end up not being A writer.  It’s far too easy for a positive idea to be twisted into a discouraging one.  Being an aspiring writer is so damned discouraging already.  Comparing yourself and your habits to succsessful writers is a dangerous game.

It’s also unfair.  I’m not out to be discouraging, but if you’re goal as a writer is to be THE WRITER, I can only suggest that you pack it up and save yourself some heartbreak.  I can’t say for certain that you won’t be the next one, but I can say the odds are long.  That’s me being diplomatic.

You ARE not the next Stephen King.

(If I turn out to be wrong, I apologize.  Congratulations in advance on all your incredible success.)

Let’s assume, however, that your goal is not so lofty as this.  Maybe you just want to be the best writer you can be, and so why not follow the example THE WRITER has set for you?  Hard to argue with that.  Except that just because a person does something and is successful, that doesn’t mean the activity is why they’re successful.  Even if it seems related.  Emulation is a good jumping off point, but you can’t become THE WRITER simply by immitation.  Just as I can’t become Superman by wearing a cape.

Some of this is obvious.  If THE WRITER eats four pounds of a carrots a day, you probably don’t need to do the same.  Even he / she crediting carrot gluttony for his / her success, you’d still be unlikely to consider it.  But if THE WRITER writes X hours a day OR reads X books a year OR writes detailed plot outlines, there’s really no guarantee that this has anything to do with their success either.  It probably has something to do with it, but even then, that’s just a guess.  After all, if being successful was as simple as immitating successful people, wouldn’t we all be writers, astronauts, rock stars, and dinobots?

 The reality is that, even if you are the next THE WRITER, there’s no reason to believe that you have to be the same incarnation as the previous title holder.  You are your own person with your own quirks, flaws, strengths, and style.  Maybe THE WRITER reads ten hours a day.  But does he / she read that much because it influences his / her writing?  Or is it just because he / she loves writing that much that he simply can’t get enough of it?  Or is it just a superstitious ritual, a curious habit that really doesn’t have much to do with success or failure?

You’ll never know.  Chances are, they don’t know either.  Oh, they might think they know.  They might attribute carrots, yoga, or telepathic aliens to all their success.  But every activity THE WRITER does is also being done by thousands of less successful (and unsuccessful) writers.  I’m a somewhat successful writer, for example, and while I’m by no means THE WRITER or anywhere near that, I still earn a living doing this, which is something a lot of people want to do.

I also play a whole lotta World of Warcraft.  While I do enjoy it, and actually do think it has contributed to my career (story technique and presentation is a big part of WoW), it’s hard for me to say playing too much World of Warcraft will help you become a professional novelologist.

I love Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers.  If asked, I’d say they were tremendous influences on my style and story technique, even to this day.  Doesn’t mean I’m right.  Maybe I love those shows because I was a writer even before I knew I was a writer.  Maybe those shows didn’t shape me.  Maybe they simply appealed to the inner novelologist.  And maybe you’re inner writer is different than my inner writer, and all you’d see is some cartoon shows with talking ducks and chipmunks.

There are some universals, of course.  You should write, if you want to be a writer.  Though you don’t have to spend as much time writing as THE WRITER to be successful, and if you end up burning out trying to write as much, you could even end up screwing yourself in the end.  To the point where writing is such a chore you’d rather never touch a keyboard again.  That’s counteproductive, and you’d only have yourself to blame for chasing THE WRITER when you shouldn’t have been less concerned with what your hero does and more dedicated to finding what works for you.

All of this isn’t meant to be discouraging.  If you discover that THE WRITER likes to stand on his head while whistling showtunes and you discover that this helps you reach new heights of writing yourself, then by all means, go for it.  It might just be a placebo effect, but even a placebo can be effective in the right circumstances.  Anything that helps you write is good.  Anything that discourages you is bad.  Whatever THE WRITER does, it doesn’t have to be what you do.  You are more than his / her successor.  You’re not there to fill his / her space in the universe.  You’re there to find your own space.

Don’t be afraid to find it in places THE WRITER never dreamt of looking.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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6 Comments

  1. Ripley
    Posted February 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a writer; I’m the boss. I’m the bowss. The bowss.

  2. Gabriel Morales
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Great post. Interestingly, I like to compare myself to Stephen King in a general sense for inspiration. He graduate college with an English degree and went into high school teach, which is essentially what I’m going to do. This doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a great writer like him, but I like to think it at least shows I’m not on the wrong track.

    It’s funny you bring him up though, cause I read one of his axioms, something like “If you cant’ read and write for 4 hours a day, you don’t want to be a writer.” I’m trying to read/writer for a few hours a day now (pending time constraints). Overall though, I am trying to look at the things different successful writers do and incorporate those things into my lifestyle. Dan Brown sometimes does inversion therapy, for example. Occasionally I do that if I have bad writers block.

    Glad to see a gamer-writer, but WoW sounds like a dangerous thing. It can eat up so much time that could be spent writing/reading/outlining.

  3. Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I’m a writer but not The Writer but not beating myself up for not emulating who that may be. I liked your post….and I love those shows too!

    Great post. :)

  4. Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Many of “THE WRITERS” (including of course Mr. King) contribute to this by writing books about writing, of course. Thoughts on how big a grain of salt to take those with? And, for that matter, how big a grain you need for super-helpful writing blogs like ours…

  5. Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    Great advice. I catch myself engaging in this kind of thinking a lot.

    Makes me wonder — how many times did our idolized writers’ habits come from doing this too?

  6. Josh
    Posted August 28, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Just wanted to give you a “thank you”. I’m reading “The Nameless Witch” and the part where she’s throwing rocks at the soldiers to the delight of Newt made me laugh so freaking hard that I was crying just like said familiar/demon-duck. I read the exchange no less than four times, and each time I wept more profusely.

    Thanks for that. Keep writing. I’ll give anything you write a chance.

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