Like-To, Want-To, Need-To

Philip HarrisWriting, Writing Advice0 Comments

There are three types of writer (or musician or singer or actor or insert-creative-job-of-your-choice).

The first type are the people who would like-to be a writer. These are the people who’ve got a great idea for a novel and they just know they’ve got the talent. These are the people who can see themselves spending a few minutes at the beginning of each day dashing out a couple of thousand words of their next bestseller and then sitting around, soaking up the sun at their lake house while inspiration strikes and the royalty cheques roll in. These are the people who would love seeing their books on shelves in their local bookstore and giving readings to hundreds of adoring fans and going to exotic launch parties and giving interviews to the New York Times and Oprah.

Of course, they don’t quite have the time to write their book at the moment, but they like the idea of being a writer. Maybe next year.

You haven’t read any books by like-to writers.

Next, you have the people who want-to be a writer. They know there’s work involved and it won’t be easy, but they figure they’ve got some good ideas and enough talent that with a bit of effort they could get there. They’ve probably written some short stories, maybe even got some published. They’ve taken some writing courses, read all the best blogs, listen to three different podcasts and are members of four different writing groups. They tried to do NaNoWriMo last year but only managed 5,631 words before they got stuck (which was better than the year before). They’ve got the first half of their novel written (and the opening chapters for six more) but it’s not quite there yet. It really does take a lot of effort to write a whole novel and real life keeps getting in the way. They’ll get there some day though. Maybe next year.

You haven’t read any books by want-to writers.

Then there are the people who need-to be a writer. These are the people who make sacrifices in order to write. They get up two hours early every day to work on their novel. They quit their job or take a jobs at fast food joints or convince their partners to support them so that they have more time to write. They give up socialising or television or videogames or the internet or movies or sleep or all of those. They write on the bus on the way to work or on their lunch break or stay up late after the kids have gone to bed. They can’t sleep at night because of the ideas bouncing around inside their heads and the notebook on their bedside cabinet is filled with sentences and images and ideas they’ve scrawled in the dark. If they aren’t writing they’re thinking about writing and wishing they were.

They write even when they’re sure their novel sucks, even when their friends and family laugh at the idea of them becoming a professional author, even when someone points out it’s easier to win the lottery than sell a novel. They lay in bed at night listening to the voice of reason telling them they don’t have the talent, that their story is trite and unoriginal, that they’ll never make it. Then they get up early the next morning and write the next chapter, the next paragraph, the next sentence because they know that to become a writer they need to finish what they started, no matter what the voices say. They know it’s hard to write novels and even harder to earn a living at it, that they’ll probably need a “real” job to avoid living below the poverty line but they don’t care.

Need-to writers spend time analysing their own stories and other people’s, trying to work out what’s good, what’s bad – they put the time in to understand and learn their craft. They spend hours reading, editing, rereading and revising their stories. When they’re finished they send them out, even if they’re sure they aren’t good enough for Clarkesworld or Cemetery Dance or The New Yorker. And every time they get a rejection they pick their battered ego up off the floor, push past the soul destroying disappointment and send that story out again. If that rejection has some personal encouragement on it they cling to it like a lifeboat in shark infested waters – one little sign that they’re on the right track, that they’re not wasting their life on an impossible dream.

And when they get an acceptance the world seems a little brighter, a little more welcoming. When they get up to write the next day they’re a little bit more confident, a little bit more driven. The excitement always fades, but for those few days they can see that maybe, just maybe, they might be good enough to become a real writer.

These are the people that don’t spend their time wishing they were writers, they simply write – because they need-to.

These are the people whose books you’ve read.

Sure, there are some people who manage to fart out 100,000 words over spring break and make it into the best seller list but most successful authors got there by working hard and making sacrifices and they’re still working hard and making sacrifices – and not because they think it will be make them rich but because it’s what they need to do.

So, which type of writer are you? Like-to, Want-to or Need-to?

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[The article Like-To, Want-To, Need-To by Philip Harris originally appeared on Solitary Mindset on April 22nd, 2013]

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