Writers Write, Even When They Don’t Realize It

Random Numbers by darkmatter

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.

–Russell Baker

That Baker quote has been on my About Page forever, but I only just recently realized its irony as this blog has once again gone silent for another unreasonably long period as my time and attention have been pulled elsewhere. I’ve had several good ideas and intentions for posts since the last time I blogged here in mid-April,  but they’ve all either ended up over at Digital Book World, or I simply never got around to writing them because, well, writing requires “real work” and Battle for Wesnoth is a better way to unwind at 11pm than attempting to put together a coherent post.

Reading can be “real work” sometimes, too, so I’ve found myself getting back into magazines, comic books and anthologies for their short bursts of escape, unable to commit to a full-length novel. As a result, Bolano’s 2666 mocks me from the bottom of my to-read pile whenever I pick up the latest issue of Monocle, the latest volume of Fables, or the Forgotten Realms anthology Realms of the Dead, from the top of the pile.

Even work you enjoy takes time, and as much as I’d love to be one of those writers who can set aside a specific amount of time each day for writing, I have too many other things on my plate, including… writing.

I forget who I was chatting with a few weeks ago on Twitter, but one day something really obvious clicked into place for me and completely blew up how I saw myself as a writer.

I fell into poetry completely on a lark back in 1997, via poetry slam, and while the form and format really worked for me, I never truly embraced the idea that I was a poet. Even on those rare occasions I take the stage and read old work, it never quite pushes me over the line to want to write new poems. When I started blogging in 2003, it was purely a side thing to keep the wheels turning for that mythical day when I’d have time to do some “real writing”, and not even the 2+ years I wrote and edited for PopCultureShock changed my mind.

“Real writing” meant fiction; ultimately a novel, but even a short story or three would have felt like a step in the right direction.

And yet, the vast majority of my published (and unpublished) writing has been non-fiction, from my high school newspaper days, to magazines and blogs of the past decade. In fact, excepting a handful of college poetry gigs years ago, I’ve been paid far more for my non-fiction work than for my poetry and fiction combined. (Of course, having successfully written so little fiction, including it with poetry, for which I have been paid a pittance, is a bit misleading!) It wasn’t until writing and editing officially became a part of my day job with Digital Book World that I realized maybe I’d been barking up the wrong tree all these years, ignoring the numerous signs along the way that fiction wasn’t necessarily my bag, while non-fiction totally was.

Because most of those non-fiction articles and blogs were related to things I was passionate about, and most of my poetry could be defined as non-fictional narrative verse, they didn’t feel like “real work” and I always looked at them as exceptions to the “real writing” rule.

If I acknowledge all of the non-fiction writing I’ve done, and continue to do, it takes some of the pressure off the goal of one day writing that novel, and that’s better than just being a wannabe writer constantly beating himself up over not getting any writing done.

Right? Right?

Write. No excuses.

Labels aside, having a clear goal to work toward helps keep things in perspective.

Along with embracing my newly recognized non-fictional identity, maybe it’s time to resurrect Zombie Babe, too?

2 thoughts on “Writers Write, Even When They Don’t Realize It

  1. Word. You’ve got to acknowledge and embrace the writing you do, especially if you want to get on top of it and reach new opportunities, new venues, and new levels of effort. Non-fiction is real writing, of course, and it can be a fine stepping stone to new fiction writing. But dividing the writing into camps that count and don’t count is maddening—it’s all writing, and it’s all helping you earn valuable writer experience points. Get them wherever you can, I say.

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