Killing the compulsive writer

I figured it was time to voice my opinion on the myth of the compulsive writer. Okay, so of course what defines a writer is that they are person who writes, but there is a myth that real writer HAVE to write. We’ve all seen the almost puritanical nonsense that real writers have this insatiable urge to write all the time, for them writing is like a compulsion or addiction. A real writer gets up early to write, then has to scribble all day, and then stays up all night scribbling incessantly, writing, writing, writing, as if their whole sense of self would crumble without it. There’s websites full of advice on how to be that way, how to remove your blocks, how to be inspired, how to be a ‘proper’ writer. But really, the idea of that insanely focused writer is just cack. In fact it is more than that, it is actually pretty damaging.

I’m a creative person, I’ve tried lots of different things I’ve tried knife making, jewellery, drawing, making clothes, bone carving, crochet, tapestry, weaving, wood work, knitting, playing guitar and piano, and probably other stuff I can’t think of right now. But what I actually like to do out of all those things is writing and sewing (specifically altering clothes and making new things out of leather for friends). But still if anyone said to me ‘To sew, you must sew every day, or you’re not a real seamstress’ I’d tell them they were mental and needed to stop being so judgemental and plain weird; so why do we perpetuate the myth of the constant writer?

I suppose if you are a full time writer and you are writing to get paid, then you probably should be writing every day. But then again there is so much that comes into writing that again, that is just a stupid thing to say. Writing involves a whole heap of things including (in a fluid order) making up stories, researching, reading, feeding the imagination and soul, regurgitating ideas, editing the nonsense, more editing, rewriting, more rewriting, more drafting (otherwise known as making up shit), more research to check you’ve got it right, more editing and rewriting, and a fair amount of gazing into space (sweetly know as rumination). So if you are a full time writer, yes, do something along those lines every day. But if you are writing for fun, then do it your way. You don’t need to write a 1000 words a day to be a real writer. That’s silly.

So what is it to be a writer? Being a writer is creating stories or text in a way that works for you. Think about writing as ‘drinking’ or ‘going to the gym’. If you drink every day or go to the gym every day, you’ll fuck up really quickly. Everyone knows you need rest days, you need to train different muscles and, if we’re still talking about drinking, you need to give that liver a rest, mate. Writing’s the same. Being obsessed with something does not necessarily make it a good thing. So, take a step back, take a deep breath, and let out the toxic air of the tainted minds of others.

Look at what you are doing as a writer and look at what you actually want to get out of it. Do you have a monthly rhythm where you vary between some reading time, some writing time, some editing time and furious bursts to polish something up when you have a deadline? Do you write a bit every other day? Do you just write when you are inspired, or on the bus, or when the kids are asleep and you’ve managed to stay awake for a change? Do you write when you’ve got some time and space from the busy life you lead? Whatever the answer, just know what is right for you. You are a writer, you are unique and so are your words. If you want to give yourself a push every now and then, you can step it up a little, go to a class, study some other writers, research and focus on developing an aspect of your practice; if you have shit loads of other stuff going on, give yourself a break. Writing is hard enough as it is to get everything right, so when that voice of unreasonable writing elitism comes into your head, think back to the gym or drinking analogy, take a deep breath, and do what works for you.

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