The One Rule

(Neal Shusterman is a really  brilliant author; you should go read his books!)

(Neal Shusterman is a really brilliant author; you should go read his books!)

There’s only one rule for being a writer: you must write.

I’ve heard it a thousand times. Books stressed it, professors repeated it, and even Neal Shusterman (author of the Unwind series) said it once at my local Barnes and Noble. But it sounds so stupidly simple that you almost have to start turning over pages looking for a catch.

Never mind the books, tune out all the professors, and with the greatest respect to Mr. Shusterman…listen to me, for a moment. I’m here to tell you that there is a catch.

You see, the theory behind the “you must write” rule is that, just as a musician must practice his instrument, a writer must hone her craft by, well, writing. Reading is part of the equation, too, but the point is to find a balance. Whether it’s a poem, a story, a sentence, or a full-blown novel, any aspiring writer ought to churn out some bit of something as often as possible. That’s the theory, and it’s a good one; you’ll never catch me saying you’ve been lied to.

But the catch is a devious little tidbit of which few resources warn. Yes, you must write, but there are times when doing so will be the hardest thing in the world. I’m not talking about writer’s block, so get that thought out of your head right away. You may have a gazillion ideas and know exactly where to begin each and every one of them…but certain things will stop you.

Money. It’s unpleasant, but we need it. And if you’re like half of us 20-somethings, you may fall into the trap of prioritizing your creativity. You’ll find yourself with a brilliant idea or an overpowering urge to write that one special scene you’ve been concocting, but suddenly your mental gears will grind to a halt and you’ll say, “Don’t I have better things to be working on?”

Then, instead of practicing your instrument, you’re running from orchestra to orchestra checking to see if they will hire you. You’re up on the internet until 4 in the morning, looking at classifieds. You’re tossing aside interesting projects in favor of scrambling to come up with an idea that fits a publisher’s submission desires…you’re not writing.

What successful musician gets anywhere by chasing jobs but never practicing? It simply can’t be done. You have to write, but be prepared for responsibility demons to jump out at every turn. They’ll sneak up on you when you’re “wasting” time jotting down a scene or typing away on your laptop and whisper that this won’t add to your credentials or earn you anything. They’ll tell you your ideas have no value because they serve no purpose other than to keep you writing. And that’s where you can look up, grin at them, and sweetly say, “But that’s the point.”

Write, for writing’s sake. Not solely; you must feed the responsibility demons sometime. But even though it has a catch, don’t forget the books and the professors and visiting authors who have repeated it in your ears countless times.

Write.

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