Friday, January 22, 2010

What are you waiting for?

At the dawn of this year, I stated my goal of getting you to write -- persuading you to set aside whatever is getting in your way and just sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keys. This is not because I think everyone needs to be a writer (there's plenty of competition out there, thank you) but because I know there are a lot of people out there with ideas swirling in their heads just waiting for permission to proceed.

It's worth noting that in most cases, power isn't given, it's seized by those ambitious enough to go after it. And it's up to you to do so with your literary aspirations as well. At least in the realm of fiction, no one can give you permission to write about a subject; you have to just sit down and do it and to hell anyone who tells you that you can't.

That almost sounds silly, but there are seriously plenty of people out there frozen with their fingers over the keys. I've met a lot of them. I can't imagine what they're waiting for. There's no government agency or academic institution or critic out there with the power vested in them to license authors, at least not in America.

If you live somewhere that does that sort of thing, you might want to consider emigrating to someplace that doesn't.

There are no entrance exams for becoming an author. If you want to write, you just have to put your butt in a chair and your fingers on the keys and do it. That's not to say it's easy or that you'll have immediate success or that a degree in English Lit or Creative Writing wouldn't help you, but formal training is not strictly necessary either.

A lot of bad books come from people with lofty degrees. Enough so that I remain unconvinced that it helps more than it hinders. I am convinced that in order to be a writer you need only a love of words, the desire to dream out loud and a willingness to stick it out as you figure out how to do it.

Reading is the only meaningful apprenticeship for a writer. The classroom may ice the cake or it may stifle you, but the library and the bookstore is a wide-open field of study, an embarrassment of riches. The only way to learn how to write is to read. Read everything. Good books, bad books, classic books, trashy romance novels, history books, poetry, plays, comic books, screenplays... everything you read has a lesson to teach for good or ill. Everything you write is a reflection of what you've read, as an echo of those you honor and a rebuke of those your revile. Still not convinced? Fine.  

By the power vested in me by absolutely no one at all, you have permission to write.

There. Now you don't have any more excuses.  Get back to work.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).