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.