I was talking to some friends on Twitter today about a common issue shared by many serious writers, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve already begun making money off their writing. People who aren’t writers don’t seem to understand what writing is to those of us who devote serious time to it. Writing isn’t a hobby. It isn’t something to be done on your “spare time.” It isn’t something that can be rushed. And for a lot of writers, it isn’t something that can be done when you’re not in the
write right state of mind.
Those of you who are writers probably already know what I’m talking about. We tend to encounter issues with friends, family, and others in our lives who don’t really understand what professional writing is. One of my Twitter friends said this lack of understanding probably stems from the fact that almost everyone grows up learning how to read and write, and oftentimes think they could write a book themselves if they ever felt like it. They don’t understand the difference between someone who hasn’t written anything since college essays versus someone who sits down every day like you’re clocking into a job and works hard at planning,
outlining, writing, revising, editing, revising, revising, and revising a novel for two years straight before it’s finished.
Writing is hard. It takes a lot of practice. There will be times when you’re beating your head against the wall trying to come up with the solution to an issue in a chapter you’re working on, only to end up cutting that chapter entirely later on. There will be times when it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the insistent demand that you write now. Many writers I know complain about the constant distractions from their children, siblings, and others who just won’t give them some peace and quiet so they can work. And many of them probably have friends who ask, like one friend of mine did, “Why does it take so long?” and “Why do you need so many drafts?”
When my friend asked me how long it would be until Manifestation was finished, I explained it to him like this: I’m currently on an editing stage where I’m removing language that filters the scene through a character’s senses, and also removing superfluous adverbs, because both of these things weaken the text. Many writers agree with the “kill all the adverbs method of writing, but in case you’re not, here’s an example from Manifestation:
Another scream sounded from nearby, and someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” Gabby saw someone nearby collapse to the ground, beside a man who was clutching his head in pain. The doctor turned to help, running over to the woman on the ground. As the others in the immediate vicinity cleared away, Gabby saw blood covering the woman and spreading across the ground. She looked up at the man standing over her, and saw more blood on his hands. He looked right at her, his face twisted in pain, his eyes lost. He looked down at his feet and the woman lying there, his face blank with shock. He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.
Another scream sounded from nearby. Someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” A woman collapsed to the ground, covered in blood. A man stood next to her, clutching his head in pain. The doctor ran over to the woman and knelt next to her, checking her vitals. The rest of the crowd cleared away, giving him room. Gabby stood back, watching the doctor work. Blood spread across the ground around the woman’s body. The man standing nearby lowered his hands. They were covered in blood.
He looked at Gabby. His face twisted in pain and his eyes lost focus. His hair stood out in bloody clumps where he’d been clutching his head. He looked down at the woman lying in a pool of her own blood. His face went pale and he wore a blank expression as he tried to absorb what had happened. He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.
I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with that passage yet, but some of the key differences are how I removed the lines “Gabby saw…” and just described what was happening. I also removed the horrible phrase “He only belatedly,” a double-adverb sin that should never have been in the passage at all. “He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.” is a much better line than “He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.”
Going through and making changes like these through a 100,000 word manuscript takes time. As an example of how long it takes, I recently removed 164 adverbial usages of the word “just.” I apparently have this bad habit of saying someone “just” did something. “She just nodded.” “She just didn’t know what to say.” “She just turned and left the room.” These word choices weaken the prose, and each of those sentences are just stronger without the superfluous “just.” But taking out 164 “justs,” if each one takes thirty seconds to find, read, and remove, adds up to almost an hour and a half of editing. And the “justs” are just one of about forty commonly-overused words I’m editing and removing right now. That’s a couple of weeks worth of work right there, just to polish the prose itself. That’s aside from any other work spent rearranging chapters, cutting scenes, and working on plot and characterization.
Writing is hard.
And there are entirely different issues while writing the first draft. A lot of people need to be in the right frame of mind in order to write. Some writers I know like to write with music on. Others need a quiet room. Many of us stare at a blank screen, trying to find inspiration. Though I like to follow Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He says that your Muse won’t show up when you want him to. He’ll get there when he’s damn good and ready. So the only way to proceed is to sit down and work hard, every day. That way, when your Muse is ready to show up, he’ll find you there, hard at work, waiting for his inspiration.
(Of course, my Muse is a woman with long dark hair, captivating eyes, and a toga. But to each their own.)
So next time someone tells you to write in your spare time, ask them what they do for a living and then ask them if they could just squeeze that into their “spare time.” If they don’t want their career treated like a hobby, they shouldn’t act that way about yours.