What Writers Do

Last Thursday I started on a personal journey, if you want to call it that.  I committed to think of myself as a writer and to act as if I believed that I was a writer for fifty days, so that when those fifty days are over I can comfortably wear the label.   It’s the fifth day of this adventure, and it doesn’t feel very natural yet.

I asked you for tips, tricks, or suggestions for feeling more writerly.  I thought you would tell me to wear a  tweed vest or smoke a pipe or drink whiskey in the evenings; to enter into fights on twitter [you know who you are, bloggers of America]; to light a candle and read the New York Times with my coffee each morning.  You didn’t. Instead, you all said the same thing:  to be a “real” writer, just stop talking about it and get it done.  Sit your butt down and write.  There were variations in responses, of course, but only in levels of frankness on this common theme.

It seemed unhelpful and obvious to me at first, but already I’ve realized how valuable this advice really is.  After five days of intentionally thinking about, talking about, stressing about, or considering the writing life, I’m not actually spending very many minutes putting words on the page.  I’ve only written a few hundred words, I still haven’t chosen a project for this period, and I haven’t received any supernatural inspiration.  Yet.

According to my research [casually googling variations of “what writers do” over the last week], this is pretty normal.  J. Robert Lennon for the L.A. Times (2009) reported that real writers spend around 2% of their lives actually writing words.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t being writers the other 98% of the time.  They are just living: thinking and working through the social interactions and complex critical thinking skills that eventually become the building blocks of what they create.  Writing requires living.

I wish there were some magic formula for being comfortable in your own skin a writer, but it turns out that the cape and tights won’t feel right until you pull them on, tuck your feet into those bright red boots, run outside and save someone.  Otherwise, you are just sitting around wearing spandex.  As a thinker, an analyzer, a “but what about this?” problem solver, getting started isn’t how I like to begin.  I want to be ready:  to gather together all of my tools and complete all of my training and calendar the milestones and targets before typing that first word.  This isn’t going to work like that, but that’s okay.  I can take my time and do this however I want to, so long as I’m doing it.

If you’re on a similar journey of finding your voice and style as a writer, or if you just want to watch me fumble around as I do this weird thing I’m doing, I’m using instagram and twitter to catalogue my random writing activities, with the hashtag #50daysawriter.  (Is that redundant?  Did I just write hashtag twice there?  I’m still learning twitter grammar.)  It’s mostly awkward so far but kind of fun too.



  1. margaretfelice

    What a great idea! I have been trying to do the same thing, though not in such a formal way. I’ve found that this doesn’t just mean writing all day, as you mention. But when I am burned out from writing if I read either for pleasure or about the craft of writing, it still feels like I am performing my writerly duties.

  2. Lindsay Tweedle

    I love you so much, and identify with so so much of this. (speaking of redundant) I wrote myself encouraging notes, set deadlines, planned out plot points but it turned out nothing words on the page until I actually sat down and put my thoughts into “action.” Which is so much tougher for me than planning it. ::)

    • pink-briefcase

      Thanks Lindsay! It is SO MUCH HARDER to do it than to talk about it. I feel like everyone else has known this all along and I’m just now beginning to understand. [But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep planning. I’m just going to try to do both/and. We’ll see how that goes…]

  3. Pingback: #50daysawriter Update: The Half Way Point | pink-briefcase

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