Excuses are like…
Writing is hard, y’all. I didn’t used to think that, but then I didn’t used to write 70,000-word novels comprised of entirely fictional characters, events, and storylines.
I’ve been a journalist now for more than ten years, having spent time both as a full-time and now as a freelance journalist, primarily writing human interest articles and arts/entertainment features and reviews. And having now finished a draft of a manuscript that’s more than 69,000 words, I can tell you that journalism is easy. Writing a novel is hard.
So when I tell friends and family that I’m writing a novel with the goal of becoming a published author and they tell me they’ve always wanted to write a book, I tell them the truth: writing a novel is hard. But I also tell them that they should absolutely, without a doubt, write the book that’s in their heads anyway.
There’s always inevitably an excuse, some reason they haven’t put their fingers to their computer keys and clacked away in an attempt to push the story from their head to the page. For me it was doubt. Friends and family – mostly my husband – who encouraged me to branch out and write a book. There was this thought in their heads that because I was a journalist I could write a book. That the skills somehow translated. In my mind they didn’t. Not in a way that mattered. Sure, human interest articles often employ voice. And sure, human interest features have quotes and sometimes even dialogue. But the quotes in articles are someone’s actual words. Not something I made up.
To me, I was a journalist. I didn’t have a story to tell. I didn’t have the skills or the know-how to write a novel. And all of that may be true – even still – but it didn’t stop me from eventually trying. Because ultimately, there was no way for me to know whether I could write a book until I’d tried. And, ultimately, any excuse I had was born out of laziness. Don’t know how to plot? Don’t know how to structure a story? Don’t know how to build three-dimensional fictional characters? Pick up a book. Scour the internet. Discover the amazing author community on Twitter and mine their brains (and then take note of the fact that even some of the most accomplished writers still have doubts about their own work and own abilities; it’s a natural part of the creative process). There are many resources out there that can help aspiring novelists, even those without an English degree or a writing-based career.
I never (and I mean never) thought I would glean a message from Jim Carrey motivational, but he recently gave a commencement speech at the Maharishi school located southeast of me in Fairfield, Iowa, and the results was surprisingly deep and motivational for a man who’s built a career on over-the-top physical comedy.
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice,” Carrey said. “Instead he got a safe job as an accountant.”
His dad lost his job and the family fell on hard times. So much for safe…
“I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love,” he said.
Jim Carrey’s advice was not the push that led me to write my manuscript. But it is a reminder to keep going, to persevere through the inevitable rejection of the query trenches. I love writing. And now that I’ve dipped my toe in the fiction writing pool, I want to continue. Writing is what I love.
Toss out the excuses and write the book. No matter how long it takes. No matter how frustrating it gets. And no matter how unqualified you feel. Write because it’s what you love and because you have a story to tell.