When people find out that I do creative writing, fairly often they will say to me, “I’ve been thinking of doing that, but ___________.” Or, “I have an idea for a book, but __________.” And they tell me some reason why they haven’t started writing yet, or why they got stalled, or . . . whatever. They seem to feel guilty about not writing and think they should apologize to me, a person who is writing. But I know what a huge commitment of time and energy writing actually is; and the longer I write, the more I’m convinced that writing is not for everyone. This post is respectfully dedicated to those who think they should write but have never quite gotten around to it. To those good souls, I say that perhaps you do not really want to write, and that is perfectly okay. Maybe you are getting more out of life by spending your time on other things. Here are some completely valid reasons not to write:
- Don’t write if deep down you don’t really like to write. Often people think that they would enjoy creative writing, but by its very nature writing can actually be really tedious, especially for people who are naturally social and active. Sitting on your hind end hour after hour laboring over the same three very frustrating pages is NOT fun. I personally find the writing process rewarding, but I certainly won’t blame anyone who you doesn’t have the patience for it.
- If you don’t really like reading, then writing is not for you, either. A person who doesn’t read much will not have absorbed a strong enough sense of how written language is constructed and paced. This is not a criticism, it’s just an observation. If you don’t like to read, then you don’t have enough enjoyment of the written word to stick with writing for the long haul. There are other modes of creative expression, and something other than writing would probably suit you better.
- Writing is probably not for you if you want things to be finished quickly. Murphy’s Law: Nothing is as easy as it looks. Everything takes longer than you think it will. If anything can go wrong, it will. All of this really applies to writing. A good finished manuscript usually requires much more time and correction than the author cares to calculate. A piece that was dashed off in a short creative spurt is probably either a) a miracle or b) something far clumsier and problematic than the author realizes. Option B is about a zillion times more common than A. The poor author will find out all about the clumsiness and problems in his work when other people read it. And that brings me to the next point:
- If you are easily hurt by criticism and really have a hard time getting past it, then maybe you shouldn’t write. Or you should think about keeping your writing private. Because it’s inevitable that when other people read your work, not every reaction is going to be positive. Some people may love your work. But others will disagree with it, misunderstand it, be offended by it, be bored with it. They may get hung up on details and miss the overall point. They may begin reading the story and then never finish it. Worse yet, they may read a little bit and then post a scathing review online. These reactions from readers can be very painful to a sensitive writer. This is especially true, I think, if the subject matter is deeply personal. And if the writer is already facing other hardships in her life, then this kind of criticism can feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I say this with all empathy: there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak,” as the book of Ecclesiastes says, and at vulnerable points in our lives it may be best to consider whether we’re really ready to share our work.
Next post will address more perfectly valid reasons not to write: Don’t write to hurt other people; don’t write for people who don’t want to read; don’t spend time at your desk writing when you truly are needed elsewhere.