LISTS OF STUFF: Some Things People Don’t Always Tell You About Writing Annie Stamell

I’m always parsing the Internet for advice about writing. That’s a bad thing because it means I’m dilly-dallying on the Internet when I should be writing, and the number one thing I’ve learned from Internet searches on being a writer is that the Number One Most Important Rule of Writing is that you must always be writing -  like, always always be writing – and you will surely be a failure if you don’t.

Now, I realize I’m not setting myself up to be the most credible source on writing advice because I obviously break the Number One Most Important Rule of Writing from time to time; however, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the career I’ve chosen, and while everyone is always talking about how you should “always be writing” and “write every day” and “why are you even reading this now when you should be writing?”, there are a few other things about writing that people don’t always tell you about. And if you have any plans to grow up and be a writer someday (which is my ongoing plan), then there are some other things to consider:

1. You spend a lot of time by yourself.  I know a lot of people who hate being alone. People who hate spending time by themselves, people who’d rather spend every waking moment with another person, people for who the thought of spending eight hours in a room staring at a computer makes them horrified and/or have an anxiety attack. If you are a writer, you simply cannot be this kind of person. You have to be the kind of person who loves being alone. You could spend hours being alone, not talking to anyone, just thinking your thoughts and doing what you do. You should be someone who is also okay with intentionally not being social or going to social events because you need to be alone to write. If you have FOMO, this may be difficult. Even if you don’t have FOMO, this may be difficult. But you have to carve out time you spend with just yourself, writing. This is essential. Trust me, there are a lot of times when I would have loved to go get drunk and ride my bike through Venice Beach and shout at people, but I’ve stayed home to write instead. And to be honest, I love being by myself. Sometimes I get nervous that I like it a little too much, but this tendency to be into hanging out with me, myself and I has turned out to be a huge help as I’ve embarked on a writing career.

2. You are a narcissist. I mean, come on, did you read the previous item on this list? You are someone who is totally okay with spending a lot of time solo. You want to think your thoughts and tell them to people. If you are a writer, and have been for some time, then I assume you know you are a narcissist by now. And if you don’t know it, you are not self-aware and you should work on that because it will help with your writing – again, if you are a writer, you are a narcissist. I honestly don’t know how you couldn’t be – how else do you have the conviction to create stories inside your brain and present them to the world? You have to think a lot about yourself to be able to that. You need to think you are pretty great and that the world deserves your words and you are totally happy to spend eight uninterrupted hours by yourself because you love yourself and believe that your voice is one that needs to be heard. I’m sorry, but there’s almost no way to separate one from the other – you have to be self-involved to be a writer, and I don’t see much of a way around it. Now, being a narcissist isn’t automatically a bad thing, and it’s because of your inherent narcissism that you write in the first place, but it’s something to be aware of and something, as a writer, you have to come to terms with. I mean, I’m obviously a narcissist – in that very first paragraph I set out why I shouldn’t be writing this list and here I am writing it anyway.

3. However, you will need to be able to play with others. This is so important. You have to be one of those rare people who can be just as happy spending time solo as you are hanging out with a group of friends. Ultimately what you are writing is never going to end with just you – it will take on the notes, thoughts, suggestions, advice, edits and opinions of so many others. Furthermore, if your writing is about real world experiences, then you will need to go have some real world experiences to better inform your writing. Maybe you shouldn’t skip a night of drunk bike-riding and yelling at strangers because that could inspire a pivotal moment in whatever you write next! Furthermore, sometimes (and oftentimes) you will write with other people. You might have a writing partner or a staff that you collaborate with and you could even be a writer on a TV show, which means you are going to be spending anywhere from seven to seventeen hours a day with anywhere from four to fourteen other like-minded individuals creating stories. Together. This is going to be hard because you will have to put aside all the time you spent alone as a narcissist and take criticism and rejection and learn to compromise and make sacrifices with all these other people who are all a lot like you. You are going to have to deal with politics and other people’s feelings and sensitivities and hierarchies and protocol and it’s going to be very much the opposite of all that time spent writing by yourself, but you need to be able to enjoy the challenge of collaboration just as much, if not more. The good news is that any time spent writing with other writers is only going to result in an improvement of your own writing. It’s inevitable. And even better, you might have just as much fun working with other writers as you do writing by yourself.

4. A lot of the time it’s going to suck. I mean, anything can suck and a lot of things do, but there’s something about writing that makes it feel like it sucks more. I mean that in the sense that your career ups and downs are huge and are almost impossible to separate from your personal self and your emotional well-being, because you are writing from the heart, no matter what you are writing about. Mixing your heart with your work means that when things suck, they really suck. If you work in TV, one minute you could have a steady job on a show and the next you are collecting unemployment checks while you wait for the next thing. Maybe you only write blog posts that angry Internet readers tear to shreds every day. Maybe you wrote something and posted it somewhere or gave it someone and no one read it, or liked it or shared it or commented on it or even reacted to it at all. This is not going to feel good. This will happen. It sucks. But you just have to accept that and keep going. It’s not always going to suck. A lot of the time it does but then there are times when it doesn’t and someone tells you they are a fan of your work or you get the dream job on your favorite show or some famous director wants to do your movie — those are the times when it is awesome and more rewarding than anything else. At least, so I’ve been told.

5. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but just keep practicing anyway. One of the most exciting things, in my opinion, when it comes to writing is that each time you write, you get better at it. I don’t think you ever really master it, but you’re a narcissist, which means there’s also a good chance you are a perfectionist, so you’ll hold yourself to really high standards you may never meet and that’s why you never master it. That’s okay – just know that you are going to be constantly evolving and growing and learning as you write and the only way to get any closer to perfection is to just keep writing and each time you do, something new will fall into place.

6. Whenever one of your peers has success, you may fall into a jealous rage and burn that feature script you just wrote in a trashcan and throw your computer off a balcony and bang your head against a tabletop and cry. Okay, it probably won’t be that dramatic, but you are definitely going to have to deal with seeing a friend or peer succeeding at writing when you are not, and that can incite a whole range of emotions, including jealousy. It’s really hard sometimes to accept the success of someone else in the same field as you, especially when that field is competitive and there are limited slots and job options and you know or are familiar with a lot of the other people trying to do the same or similar things as you. This is the case in Hollywood. It’s oftentimes hard not to be jealous when you hear about someone your age who has their own show, or sold a feature script for over a million dollars, sold their pilot, got asked to rewrite some amazing film, got a script on the Black List, etc. Rather than feel sorry for yourself or for being angry at someone else for something they worked hard to earn (because I don’t care what people say, I can’t imagine a single writer not working hard on their writing, you just couldn’t be a writer if that were the case!), it’s important to take the success of your peer and turn it into a motivating factor for your own writing. Acknowledge and congratulate the success of this person and then get back to your stuff – if you want to get where they are, you will be the one to make it happen, which means you are the one who needs to go write already. (Seriously, go write already!)

7. You are going to constantly question your choice of career, but you’ll never be able to imagine doing anything else. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if I’m doing the right thing with my life. Is this the right career path? Is this the life for me? Am I even good at writing? But then when I wonder if there’s something else I’d rather do than write, I honestly can’t think of anything. I might still worry I’m a terrible writer, that I’ll never get staffed on a TV show, sell a book, write a movie, make someone laugh with a silly blog post but I like doing what I’m doing, and even with those fears and doubts, I’m happy about it. When I acknowledge that I’m spiraling into a nasty little circle of self-doubt, I just have to ask myself what I would rather be doing, and if there’s something else that could make me happier than writing. And the truth is there’s nothing I would rather do. I want to tell stories. I want to craft words in interesting ways and put them on paper for someone else to respond to. I want to create characters and plot lines and people to care about. I just want to write.

8. The Number One Most Important Rule of Writing is that you must always be writing. Sure, there’s all that other stuff, but don’t forget about this one. This is the one that matters the most. Go, write. Then write more. Keep on writing.

Typewriter image via Shutterstock

comments

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  1. Wow, this is all so true.

  2. Just to let you know.. Your writing in this is great! :)

  3. So true!!! Love it!!!

  4. Welp, that was a comment fail. What I was going to say was: YES YES YES, a million times yes! This is such a fantastic list, and so honest, especially the narcissist bit (although I think there are different levels of narcissism from extreme (one of my ex-boyfriends) to mild (me, hopefully)). Anyway. I really enjoyed this.

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  6. Thank you for writing #6. All of this time I thought I was a horrible person, but I feel better now knowing this is a real thing and I’m not the only one…!!! ;o)

    Santina Muha | 7/19/2012 03:07 pm
  7. Whole-heartedly agree with all of this. So good, Annie! You really defined what us writers go through/need to do on a day-to-day basis.

  8. I forgot two very important things! You can check out an addendum to this list on my tumblr: http://stamos.tumblr.com/post/27569968222/an-addendum-to-lists-of-stuff-some-things-people So glad you guys are enjoying the article!

  9. Does Tweeting count as writing all time? As a writer, love this. Thanks for the real talk!

    • I wish Tweeting counted but I don’t think it does. I think if you are a comedy writer it’s a great place to work out jokes and material but you shouldn’t count it as your writing for the day! So glad you enjoyed the post!

  10. I love this so much. This is probably the best article this server has had in a while, especially lately. Very good example of honesty without unnecessary ridicule.

  11. This was a hug & a kick in the ass… so it was perfect.

  12. Thank you!! This article is very useful to future writers. Gonna keep that in mind during my Journalism course