There’s a magic trick to writing. It’s a sacred technique passed on from master to apprentice since time began. This carefully guarded secret seems to be the great barrier between those who want to write and those who don’t.
I reveal that trick to you now at great risk to my own life. Should these be the last words you hear from me, guard this secret. There are anti-writing ninjas in the world who seek to take this technique, not for their own misuse, but worse, to destroy it thus ensuring the end of the line of writers.
When I was but a young apprentice, I had no real master. I had to survive watching the battles of history’s greatest. I studied all their moves. I watched their fights over and over again, trying to find out what made them great.
Whilst wandering the Earth in search of more skills, I came upon a scroll. I don’t know how it came to be under a rock in a cave I didn’t realize I’d need to sleep in until the snow grew so thick I couldn’t see, nor do I understand why I bothered to glance at it before I burned said paper for much-desired warmth. The important thing is I read it.
I unclasped the metal pin and stretched the parchment out before me, thinking to get more heat if I burned the paper in smaller bits. I was shocked to read the title.
The Great Secret to Being a Writer.
This was it! The secret to my greatest question in life had just fallen into my hands. I unraveled the scroll, eager to read its many instructions. I revealed a foot of the scroll…nothing. What cruel joke was this? Quickly, I unraveled more and more, equally desperate to punish whoever played this joke on me as I was hopeful to find some hint to how to be a writer.
I’d thought all was lost. Then I came to the end of the scroll, and found a single word.
I re-read the word over and over. Was there more? Nothing. Who would waste so much paper for a single, five-letter word? The excitement I felt when I saw the title was replaced by the need for self-preservation. My body was shaking from the cold at this point and my fingers were likely to become individually wrapped popsicles.
I prepared to turn the scroll into a raging heat-giving inferno when I heard something clink at the core of the scroll. Attached to the end of a thick piece of old bamboo was a metallic and ornate bulbous endcap. I gripped it and pulled it away finding a single pen inside. As I held it, I found another message.
“All you ever need to be a writer is something to write with, and something to write on.”
Indeed I was impressed at whatever master engraved such words onto this pen because I couldn’t for the life of me determine how so many words could be placed on such a small object. Whatever the case, I understood. I had received The Secret. Not only did I receive the wisest word I could have ever behold, but I was given all the tools I would ever need. So I obeyed.
I took the quill (It’s a quill now, cause that’s cooler. Don’t ask how anyone could engrave on a feather…it’s a magic feather. If they can make elephants fly, they can hold a single prolific message.) and wrote…
(Now that I have a magic quill, I can keep going…)
…at least I tried to write. But where where my ideas? Indeed my mind was emptier than a bottle of Vodka in Russian winter.
I froze. Devastated, I told myself I could not write, because I could not think.
“You gonna hold me all day, or do you mean to do something?”
I leapt from my spot on the moist cave floor and scanned the area. Nothing.
“Hey, down here.”
I looked at my hand and realized my magic quill had spoke to me. (See…I knew that’d come in handy.)
“Why aren’t you writing?”
“I don’t have any ideas.”
“But why aren’t you writing?”
“Aren’t you supposed to give me inspiration or something?”
“How can I possibly do that?” the quill asked. “I’m a quill.”
“You’re a talking quill,” I replied.
“You’re telling me you have the imagination required to hold a conversation with a quill, and you can’t write?” it asked.
It had a point.
“I still don’t have any ideas.”
“But why aren’t you writing?” it asked again.
“How can you write without ideas?”
“Well,” the pen said, as if talking to the dumbest ninja ever, “You should probably start by putting me on the paper.”
I shrugged, thinking, “Well, what could happen?” I placed the metal tip of the quill onto the paper and waited.
“You do know how to write don’t you?” the pen asked.
“Of course I can write!” I replied.
“Then why aren’t I moving?” the pen asked.
“I don’t know what to write?”
“I can’t help you,” the magic quill with the ability to both write and display prophetic words of wisdom said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because I’m a quill,” it answered. “If you’re truly a writer, I’m all you need.”
Frustrated, I stabbed the pen onto the scroll and started writing a story about an argumentative quill destined to help an aspiring author create the greatest story ever told.
By the time I finished scribbling, I’d run out of scroll.
“You’ve done well,” the pen said. The scroll glowed red. It became so bright I had to step away, holding the pen in the air lest it melt in the heat. Just when I thought the scroll would explode, a poof a smoke gave birth to another blank scroll.
I stared at it.
“So, um…” the quill said. “Do you…do you need me to tell you what to do with that, or is that a too subtle a hint?”
Well? Is it?
I write 1,000 words a day. Now I define writing as drafting, editing or worldbuilding. Whatever produces words, I call writing. When I first committed to that goal, it was miserable. I didn’t know what I was doing, how to work, or even what the word “predicate” meant, much less where it goes in a sentence. (No, seriously, I was 17, and I’d lived my whole life wanting to be a writer, and I couldn’t talk about writing using the proper terms). None of that mattered.
I’d decided to be a writer, and I realized all I needed to be so was to write. I started out as a discovery writer. I just made crap up and wrote until it made sense to me. I kept going until I’d finished my first book. It was awful. The description was lacking. The setting made no sense. The plot was trite.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever made with my own two hands.
Then I took the hint. I wrote another. I learned the language of the craft. I visited blogs and read books about the subject. I started reading more and more (which I’ll discuss later).
I joined the Navy and learned how to be a journalist. I saw a bit of the world. I got distracted, but I eventually recommitted to what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a writer, so I wrote. I tried to save that first book. I literally tried 21 times to make that book something ready to be published. It’s still not. So I wrote a new book. I joined a writer’s group. Those words came more and more easily to me. The more I wrote, the more I wrote. The more times I typed “the end,” the more times I started a new book.
I have a challenge for you. I’m not a magic quill in a cave. You’re not a dense ninja looking for warmth. But my challenge is the same. If you want to be a writer, where, exactly, are your words?
I challenge you to ask yourself two questions if you can’t seem to put pen to paper:
- Do you really want to be a writer? It’s okay if you don’t, just don’t complain that you’ve never finished that book if you don’t ever, you know, sit down to write it.
- Are you having trouble thinking of ideas, or are you just afraid someone won’t like what you’ve written? I’ve already given my perspective on what you should do with fear.
Everyone with a dream has that moment of calling. It’s almost never some obvious magical moment in a cave with a magical, talking quill. It’s hardly ever some wise old traveler coming to change your life. The real world isn’t that kind. The real world lets you do, whatever it is you want to do.
You can choose to write, or you can choose to (in my case at the moment, play video games). But I started asking myself, “What am I doing right now that’s more important than writing? There are things. Spending time with family always trumps everything. Video games are less important, unless, of course I’m playing video games with family. I’m still afraid the Journals of Bob Drifter sucks despite the 4.21 average rating on Goodreads. It’s natural to be afraid. But if you want to do something, inevitably, good or bad, you do it.
I don’t care what you write. Just write. I don’t care if it’s good; that’s what editing is for. I don’t care if no one likes it; write what you like. Just write. It doesn’t have to be a thousand words. It can be a block of time or a smaller number of words. But every day you write, you’ll find it easier to write. I promise! Every day you write, you’ll find you’ve written more and more. I promise!
I’m not a writer because I’m published. I’m not a writer because I’ve sold my book at conventions. I’m a writer for one very simple reason. I write. Therefore, I, Writer.
So consider me your magic talking pen. I’m here, and there’s a scroll open before you. Is this hint too subtle?