Write. One word at a time.

Imagine this: Scientists develop a pill that you take, go to sleep, and wake up in the morning to find a perfectly printed hardcover copy of the novel you’re working on or dreaming of published by a big-name publisher, with fantastic blurbs by best-selling authors on the jacket, and a New York Times bestseller badge on the cover. Every writer’s dream, right?

So many writers feel a constant pressure to produce something that will “prove” their status or career as “writer”. As I’ve said before in a previous post, most people will definitely not take you seriously as a writer unless you’ve published a bestselling book, become an internationally recognized journalist, or won the Nobel prize for literature.

Yes, it’s  a sad, cruel world sometimes. The question is: will you allow it to victimize you? In your own eyes, will your self-image as a writer be shaken because there are people who don’t think you deserve to be called a writer?

Let me be the first person to admit to struggling with this. I feel this pressure all the time. I’ve alluded to it before in a post about writer’s block. Every single year when my birthday rolls around in February (yes, it’s that time of year again), I get this unbidden sense of panic that “Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! I’m already XX years old and I still haven’t written one novel!”

Has this pressure and panic shaken my self-image as a writer?

Yes, it has.

But that was in the past. I’ve learned the hard way that if I allow external factors to affect how I see myself as a writer, I’ll never get anywhere. If my happiness lay in pleasing or impressing others, then I would still be slogging away at a job that did not inspire, challenge, or interest me, with nothing to do but steadily climb the corporate ladder.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that the point is not how fast or often I “produce” a piece of writing worthy of public consumption. That is not the standard with which I should measure my own success. What I have learned is that I should really concern myself more with the process rather than the “product”.

I know this can sound insincere, especially since I have not yet published a novel. But I assure you, this is not a case of Aesop’s fox who decided he didn’t want the “sour” grapes that were out of reach. What I can say is, this is a lesson that can only be taught by experience.

My own daily experience has taught me that the process of putting one word in front of the other, of seeing story lines unfold, of exploring a character’s possibilities, and of feeding my writing soul is what makes me a writer.

I’m not a publisher, so my goal is not — and should not be — to produce a book for readers to buy and read. Now I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want to write a novel that will be published and will be bought and read. I do.

But that’s not what I’m working for. That’s not what makes me sit down in front of the computer and write and try out different ways of expressing an idea or feeling. That’s not what makes me read and research, and discover. And it definitely is not what makes me grow.

The only thing that will make me a writer is to write. One word at a time. One sentence, one paragraph, one page, one chapter, one story at a time.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Write. One word at a time.

  1. Go Girl =)! enjoy the process more than the goal itself b/c at the time Ur 1st book is best seller U only think about Ur next step ! it’s stressful and the cycle never ends! 🙂

    • Anyone can write. But only few people have the aatcul skills to write knowledge, literature, a true work of art. I see this in your passage now. I rarely find anything worth my time on this category. Only three pieces of work have aatcully been good, and you are number 4. For 15 years old, (I am 16 and writing a novel as well) I think your writing style is of a high caliber. What you wrote, did have enough description to get me into it. So yes, to your question, I do believe you have what it takes. a year of a intensive critical writing class.

  2. I completely understand what you mean, regardless of our job title, we go through such thoughts and feelings. The EGO which directs us toward feeling good about ourselves through tangible achievements to impress others and our own self, our own creativity and natural development.

    I’m a big fan of the movie “Ambition to Meaning – the Shift” Link: http://www.dyermovie.com/ in which the author related to an exact story like the one you relate to here, it had been proposed to him – after the success of his first book – to write about sex, making money and similar issues he didn’t feel like it’ll come out of his own self.

    He left that way to express what he’s meant to write, left to spiritually in a time that it’s not that a popular subject and he succeeded. I see that movie and stories within it a true expression of the meanings you expressed here, I even looked to it as a part of our perception to life as “Muslim” we just “submit our will to Allah” then do our job and he takes care of our outside success.

    Starting that way of writing from inside ourselves is the first step towards a qualitative success, Insha’ Allah.

    Resources:

    Wayne tells the story about himself as a writer here starting from [07:35]:

    My comment on the movie and relating it to Islam:
    http://abdo.me/2009/12/ambition-to-meaning-relating-to-the-definition-of-islam/

  3. I think you are right to recognize and be true to your own process and not the imagined expectations of others. Have you read Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life? In it she notes “It takes years to write a book-between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.” She goes on to name several prolific authors who knock off books in weeks or months, but they are the exception. As she says, “Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too.” (Page 13, paperback)

    She brings Flaubert into the discussion (Page 14), “Flaubert wrote steadily, with only the usual, appalling, strains. For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years. My guess is that full-time writers average a book every five years: seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day.”

    Puts things into perspective a bit, doesn’t it? You seem to be on the right path. Don’t be discouraged, best of luck with your writing!

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      That definitely sounds like a book I should read. Yes, it does put things into perspective. I also keep thinking about Harper Lee. She published one book. But what a book! I just checked out your own blog and love it. I love the honesty of your writing about your own struggles 🙂 Will definitely keep up with it!

  4. I find it interesting how little support there is for creative efforts. There are lots of ways for people to be dismissive.. or to make us feel like it’s all a waste of time. In broader culture too since the ideal for media companies is to have us consume tv shows and music.. and only a very few people are on top of those pyramids of creation. This is just to say keep writing.. and it’s refreshing to see reflection on the process..

  5. Debbie

    I also struggle with saying I am a writer. I guess for me i have hidden writing for the last ten years. My family know and a few close friends. I understand sometimes you just have to write to feel “the high”. It is a fulfilling feeling, to look at your pages and know you created those words. nice post!

  6. Robert C. Nelson

    My good friend, you should not be subjecting yourself to pressure from the world around you to produce THE GREATEST BOOK OF ALL TIME. There is no greatest book of all time; never will be. In my mind, the greatest author was Edgar Allen Poe, a master of baring his soul to his readers. He was a tortured man and tried so damned hard to write a great book that when he had done just that, he didn’t realize it for what it truly was. The Holy Grail was in his hands and he didn’t know it. Many people back then did not recognize his brilliance. We recognize it now; most of us anyway. I feel so sad that you have a shaken self-image. My God, young lady, you have talents beyond description. I have read your words. they talk to me. Your life experiences are many. And your soul…ah, your soul is great: you have compassion for the downtrodden; you are on their side. So yes, it is one word at a time as you say. But you know what? They are your words; they are special words. Forget about the bestsellers out there: a lot of them suck. Don’t try to write that sort of trash. Write your story told by the Marwa that I love. Write the words that you love. I love your words. Many other people love your words. Write for all of us. Give us your soul.

  7. I ABSOLUTELY second Robert! I don’t know if you’ve met, but Marwa has a special sparkle in her eyes when she laughs that definitely sends her soul right across!

    You’re amazing Marwa. Keep the process. You’re a great writer in every sense of the word!

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