Every so often, someone comes up to me at a social event and after talking for a while, they come out with “I have a novel inside me; I just know it.”
One of these days, I am going to look at that person and solemnly paraphrase Groucho Marx: “Inside of you, it’s too dark to read it.” Instead, I usually respond with something like “When are you going to write it?” or “Then you should write it.”
Nobody ever responds with “Yes, I should,” much less goes away and does it. Instead I get “But I don’t know how to start” or “I don’t have time right now” or “I have to finish X first (where X is anything from “reading the latest bestseller” to “an important project at work” to “remodeling my house”)” or “I don’t have the right equipment or the right place to work in.”
I always tell them very nicely to go and write anyway, that people find or make time for the things that are important, that I’m sure they can do what they set their minds to. And they nod and go away happy and I don’t think any of them ever write anything more than a grocery list.
What I want to say is:
Honey, you’re making excuses, and as long as you’re making excuses, that novel inside you is going to stay right where it is. Because nobody knows how to start a novel, until they sit down and do it; there is never enough time, until you decide there is; something else is alwaysgoing to be more important, until you decide it isn’t; and the “right” place and “right” equipment will elude you until you realize that the right place is wherever you are and the right equipment is whatever you have at hand to make marks with and on.
You made enough time to come to this event (dinner, party, convention, meeting, whatever). You didn’t have to finish X before you came to this event. You could have stayed home and written for two hours. Have you got a pen and paper in your pocket? You could take them over in that corner and get some notes written right now. You could…but you won’t.
And you won’t because…well, because of a lot of things, but they all boil down to the fact that you aren’t a writer. That novel inside you? It isn’t a novel. It’s a vague feeling that writing a novel is something you could do, and that it would be a rather nice thing to do. It’s the same way you think that you might like to visit the space station, or learn to do brain surgery, or become a virtuoso pianist. You think it might be nice, but you don’t really want to put the work into actually doing it.
You’re actually perfectly happy coming to events like this and cornering people who’ve actually done those things and whining about how you could do them, too, if you just had the right equipment or the time or less to do. Because we’re all too polite to tell you what I’m saying right now, so you can go home in a comfortable glow, knowing that a real professional writer told you you could write if you wanted, and believing in your heart that whatever you’re doing instead (bestseller, work project, home remodel, etc.) is more important than writing. And since you could write, but you have more important things to do, you don’t have to take the chance that you actually aren’t very good at it, and you won’t have to put in the work to learn to do it well.
And you know what? That thing you have to finish instead of writing? It is more important than writing…to you. You just won’t admit, even to yourself, that it’s your choice. Until you do, you won’t ever be a writer.
That’s what I want to say, but I don’t. Partly because I was born and raised in the Midwest, and you just don’t do that to people who are trying to have a pleasant, innocuous conversation at a social event; partly because I’m not really into conflict and tearing people down; partly because it’s not my job to deprive people of their illusions.
-Patricia C. Wrede
Lately I’ve had a couple conversations like this. One was “I don’t have the patience to knit”.
I am starting to tell people things like, “I don’t have more patience. Just the desire.”