Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heinlein's Rule Number 1 - You Must Write

This rule (which seems like a no-brainer) has two meanings:

It's a directive, but it's also a definition. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.... writers gotta write. If you want to know if you're a "real writer" just try to quit. You may find it's like smoking. You can quit just fine. Heck, you can do it over and over and over again. But you always end up coming back to it.

But if that's true, if all writers have an inner drive that forces them to write, why do we need Heinlein to tell us "You must write?"

Because self-distraction is a necessary part of writing. We work with the whole brain, not just the conscious part. Sometimes our unconscious (or pre-conscious or creative right brain) wants the conscious (or rational or left brain) to go away and leave it alone. Which is where all the cat vacuuming comes from.

We fiddle with things. We stare into space. We sharpen pencils. We check our email and stats and maybe fiddle with wording on a query letter or book blurb.

And all of these things are amazingly satisfying. For instance, staring off into space - usually we're playing the story in our heads when we do this. Which, as far as the brain is concerned, is satisfying and sufficient. The creative brain doesn't care if you write it down. That's why, if you are going through a rough patch in your real life that prevents you from writing, you can preserve your sanity by just pouring out strange dream stories into a journal.

But that's not being a writer - that's being a dreamer. A writer is also a communicator. We are story tellers. We get satisfaction too out of craft and performance. And that's where we get ourselves into a little bit of trouble. Because both of these - mastering your craft and performing - involve feedback from the outside world.

Feedback is a great motivator. Applause, sales, praise. That can get you writing more. But unfortunately it can also get you writing less. Checking your stats, your comments, your emails. Writing blurbs, schmoozing the internet, looking for new markets or reviewers. That stuff gets you some desired feedback right away. Writing alone in your room doesn't.

So it is entirely possible to fully satisfy yourself without writing at all. Satisfy your inner drive by writing endless notes about your next novel, and your need for feedback by marketing the heck out of your last one.

You can't let yourself be lured into that trap: YOU MUST WRITE.

Even if you are one of those writers who don't have an inner drive (I hear they do exist), you still can't market your way to success without sufficient product.

Marketing itself has changed tremendously these days. People can have anything they want. They don't buy based on advertising tricks any more. Marketing can give you a shot at their attention, but that's it. With so many things competing for attention, they know their mindspace - even a tiny sliver of it - is valuable. They aren't going to squander it. So you have to be worth that sliver of golden attention.

Therefore whatever you do, it must be very good, or at least very interesting. And both of those take practice, so....


You also need volume and range. Whether your customers are editors in the traditional publishing marketplace, or ordinary readers, you chances of earning their interest grows when you have more to offer.

So not only must you write: YOU MUST WRITE MORE.

Sine qua non. "Without this, nothing."

That's what the act of writing is. If you're a writer, you must keep reminding yourself that writing is the thing. Without the writing, nothing else matters.

Which leads us to the next rule: finish what you start.
(See the intro to this series here.)

Now, I must get back to writing more....


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Fantastic post, Camille! And so true--it's what we do and what we WANT to do and what we NEED to do. Great reminder....this post is on my tweet schedule for this afternoon. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

And the ironic thing is, writing this was a great way to avoid writing....

Jagged Edges said...

Camille - the post was wonderful, and your reply to Elizabeth was even better. ;)

The Daring Novelist said...

Fiction Chick:... well it's only the truth. (Sigh.)