Blame Conrad Knickerbocker, via Richard Rhodes.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Rhodes began his writing career in the PR department of Hallmark Cards, producing a daily(!) 2-page employee newsletter.
In his book How to Write : Advice and Reflections, he recounts asking his boss (the aforementioned Mr. Knickerbocker, who went on to be a book reviewer for the NYT) how does someone become a writer. Knickerbocker's now-legendary response was, appropriately enough for someone who worked for a greeting card company, short, memorable and succinct : "Rhodes, you apply ass to chair."
Such great and simple advice...and yet so much harder than it sounds. I have been writing professionally for almost 20 years (gak! must-leave-internet-and-get-stiff-drink-now) and have shtruggled with thish prollem over n' over n'over an' hic! over again.
Most of my writer friends agree - that one of the key challenges of our craft (Rhodes has some interesting things to say about the concept of "craft" by the way) is clearing the mental and physical space for us to create. For some of my friends it's about "who am I to presume that anything I do will be worth anything" (folks in this group seem to find the works of Julie Cameron helpful.) Others seem to struggle with "I want to get from here (not writing) to there (writing) but I don't know how" (for this group, I always recommend Natalie Goldberg.) While still others are afraid of getting trapped by the success of multiple bestsellers.
(True story : an acquaintance of mine, knowing I was writerguy (forgive the whedonism), sought me out for encouragement and advice. He had taken some creative writing classes years before in college, and had just come up with an idea for a fantasy book. He asked if I would comment on it as he progressed. His excitement was infectious and I had to say yes. He checked back in with me a few weeks later, to let me know that he was working on it and that he was really psyched with how it all was going. A month or so went by and I ran into him. When I asked how the writing was going, he told me that he had decided not to continue. I had been at this point many times myself and knew how delicate a place it could be - so I didn't press. He was very matter of fact about it however, and pulled me aside to explain. He had been getting along very well...but it gradually dawned on him that he was making a big mistake. He realized that when he finished and sold the book and it became a bestseller, his agent and public would only want to see more of the same. So therefore, by expressing himself at all, he was trapping himself into just one mode of expression for a lifetime. I looked for a wink...but didn't find it. He was serious. I nodded and told him that it would indeed suck to be a slave to the marketplace.)
Some people, upon hearing me tell this story, have taken me to task for not putting him "on the right track." Hey. Writing is crazy s**t. It sucks up hours : when you're writing, when you're researching, when you're thinking, when you're not writing, when you're thinking about the fact that you're not writing, etc. If he didn't feel the need to get on the hamsterwheel at that point in his life, then more power to him. He can go focus on something else.
No matter where you are or what book you read, though, ultimately it all comes down to two things :
- your ass
- a chair (though I've heard that stools work equally well. Ooh! And even those fun looking bouncy-balls!)
Does this make writing the only activity where you'd tell someone to "get on their ass" and get to work?
Regardless, you can look for more craft-related stuff to appear here. (Like an upcoming post on the identification and extermination of W.A.T.S. and S.W.A.T.S. Oy. What a S.W.A.T. this entry turned out to be!)