A recent post over on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog was pretty much spot on. The post, What You Have to Give Up to Write, discussed the sturm und drang of the canonical suffering writer. Do you really have to sacrifice your life to write? His answer: not really.
You need to devote some time every day to writing, and turn out a decent number of words during that time. At the end of year, you will have written a lot of words. Edit and revise that to improve the quality and coherence, and that’s a book. (Unspoken here is the corollary that once you get some experience at writing and make it a habit, you can write a good book.)
Life is complicated and tricksy for everyone anyway. Scalzi’s point is that by giving up an hour of something that really isn’t very important (TV, video games, RSS feeds), you give yourself time. It’s a cogent post, and makes a straightforward point about the logistics of finding time to write.
If you really want to write, you can make the time for it. If you don’t, you don’t.
Of course, it’s not really that simple. Some of the comments delve into issues of family support for writing, internal motivation, devotion, fear, prioritization, etc. Dave Barry once said that for most would-be writers, the problem is not finding the time to write, it’s finding the will to write. The post and the comment stack are, as is usually the case with Whatever, worth the reading.
But all of this is not why I’m writing this blog post.
One comment, #33 in the stack, said that a) if you haven’t devoted yourself to the writing life by your teens, it’s too late, b) if you haven’t written your first 80K novel by your early twenties, you never will, and c) if you find yourself in your thirties still not having begun to write, then you not only need a life coach, you should also limit your ambition to learning how to mow your lawn.
I posted a comment in response (#48):
@33 the writing life begins in the late teens. If you haven’t discovered your writing spirit by then, you’re just wasting your time… If you haven’t written anything by your thirtieth birthday, then you’re in desperate need of a life coach.
Oh dear me, how foolish I was to think I could begin writing fiction after the age of 35. If only I had known that I was wasting my time when I wrote that first novel back in 2006.
I drew inspiration from the result, and decided to develop my skills until I could write a good novel. I should have recognized it as the pathetic flailing of a man desperately in need of a “life coach”. Now, here I am, about to turn 40, and I still think that it’s never too late to learn?
O, foolish old man! If only you had followed your literary muse back when you were writing stories as a punk ass 15 year old! You followed one path successfully … do you think that life could possibly hold more than one? Now, encrusted with age as you are, you turn your embittered and deluded eye towards worlds of imagination? You think that you can live the dream deferred? It is too late for you!
You cannot write! You are too old!
Give up! Give up! Give up!
Scalzi frowns on overtly profane and inflammatory language in his comments. So, I expand on my response as follows:
"Kiss my ass, you pompous little shit."
"Sorry, I couldn’t understand you because you are an asshole."
… and finally …
"Come over here, sonny, so I can hit you in the ankle with my cane."