Talkers Talk and Writers Writeby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, December-January 2002
You are a talker, not a writer. You tell your friends and family you have always wanted to be a writer. They all know you plan on being a published writer some day. You plan out in detail your writing plans. You know how many words you are going to write a night and where you will submit your manuscript when it is finished. You might even spend hours on message boards at writing communities or in Internet chat rooms discussing writing. But it is all for nothing, because when it comes right down to it you haven't written a damned thing. You are just a talker. And talking doesn't get you published.
You are just cheating yourself. You have probably heard that line if you have been involved in sports or exercised to lose weight or get in better shape. Have you stopped at eighteen pushups instead of twenty or stopped short on a run? The same thing applies to writing. If you don't sit down and write, you are only cheating yourself. No one else will mind, but you. You might have the ability to become a successful writer, but until you actually create something no one will ever know. There will never be anything from you that anybody can actually read. Nothing. Zero novels. Zero books. Zero stories. Zero articles.
And never finishing a writing project and submitting it is just as bad. You talk a good game, but can you play? No one knows until you step onto the court. And if you aren't willing to submit, to make yourself vulnerable and step out onto the playing field, no will ever know how well you can play. If you are not completing manuscripts and submitting finished pieces, you will never ever be a published writer. To become part of the process you have to write and submit. These are the rules and it doesn't work any other way. Editors will not come to your door asking for your latest achievements.
You have all this time on your hands to discuss writing, read books about writing, visit writing resources, read this article and yet have never actually written or submitted anything. What's the point? There is none, unless you simply enjoy thinking about writing. The readers of the world are tired of your pathetic excuses. They have moved on to works created by other people. While you think and talk about writing, the readers of the world will continue to read what is available -- what has been actually written and published. You can talk about it later; write it first.
Reading up on the latest markets and keeping up with publishing trends is a good idea for those considering a writing career, but until you have something to submit you can't take advantage of your knowledge. There could be one million markets all paying a dollar a word and it wouldn't matter because you never actually complete anything to submit to them. Wouldn't it be better to complete a manuscript and then take a look at all the possibilities for submitting it? Rather, then saying "Gee, I'd really like to write something for this magazine." -- and then never doing it.
Why do you think writing groups and workshops are so effective? One big reason is they force you to write. They require you to show up with a written manuscript to discuss with others or hand in to the instructor so you are forced to sit down and actually crank out some work. If you think this would help you, then seek out a writer's group or workshop. And turn in all the required assignments. It might be a way to give you a kick-start until you can manage to actually write something under your own free will.
You can talk about writing all you want. No one cares. But until you write something you are not a writer. The person with bad grammar and poor writing skills who actually completes and submits something has an infinitely better chance of getting published than you ever will. He is a writer and you are not. In this business, you compete with other writers and whether their material is good or bad, the other writers are always writing. Thousands upon thousands of writing professionals and writer wannabes are busy in front of their keyboards writing, editing and polishing their manuscripts as you read this. They are your competition. This alone should be enough to motivate you to write.
Read interviews with authors and other writing professionals; there are scores of them on writerswrite.com and other websites. All of these writers have gotten the work done. They turned in their assignments and didn't make excuses. They all write regularly too, many for several hours a day. They find a schedule that works and stick to it. The one piece of advice many of them consistently give is sit down and write.
Internationally bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark says, "The first thing you have to do is write. So many people tell me, 'I'm going to write a book as soon as...' The three fatal words are as soon as... As soon as I learn to use the computer. As soon as I quit my job. As soon as the kids grow up. As soon as the dog dies. But trust me, as soon as the kids grow up and the dog dies, there will be a new set of excuses not to write which will be equally valid."
Bestselling romance novelist Christina Dodd says, "Put your rear in the chair and write the whole book."
Mystery novelist Jerrilyn Farmer advises, "Finish your first draft. It's the greatest high I know. You will never get published if you don't complete the manuscript."
And novelist Alex Keegan in his article, "Dealing with Rejection", cautions, "You must write, write, write, submit, submit, submit."
Journalists are required by their profession to write often and on a deadline. As a talker, you could never hack it in that cutthroat profession. The newspaper editors would quickly fire you and find someone who could actually sit down and write and finish the article -- even if it was not the most perfect piece ever written. Well-known authors like Neil Gaiman, Eric Van Lustbader, Julie Smith, Sujata Massey and Terry Pratchett, all got started with careers in journalism. They know what deadlines are all about. They write and they submit.
Writing can be a lonely profession. In the end, no matter how many writer support groups you belong to and no matter how many writing discussion boards you frequent, it is up to you do to the writing. There isn't going to be someone there looking over your shoulder to encourage you to get it done. It is up to you. You have to rely on your internal strength to create something, to write and to have a completed manuscript to submit. Think of a past achievement of yours and the work it took to achieve this goal. That is exactly the kind of persistence and strength you need to accomplish this.
Stop talking and get writing. And don't say a word about it to your friends or family. And stop posting to newsgroups and message boards for a couple weeks. The next time you even mention writing to a friend or family, it should be to ask them if they would like to read the short story or novel you just finished. The bottom line is writers write -- they don't just talk about writing. And you have told everyone how much you want to be a writer -- remember?
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.