I heard about T.C. Boyle, a prolific author, and his personal writing habits the other day, from an old friend of his. Evidently, the man started his career in a 2 bedroom apartment with his wife and kids and there was always noise and something going on but he would find some headphones or shut the door and bust out prose. Tons of it – just mountainous heaps of story. He came out with about a book a year and still does.
Now, fortunately for him, he’s got more space and more money, but supposedly he still goes to a cabin by himself to get that writing done. It’s not something that gets done while out with friends, or while forging another potential career path. Writing is something that cannot be effectively multitasked, even as our society has given us more and more ways to do so.
The moral of the story, as was told to me was that a writer has to be ruthless, that you have to cut things out of your life to make room for writing. There are parts of me that agree with this, but there are subtleties that defining writers as ruthless doesn’t reveal. I believe there are writers whose pace is slower, who are going to take longer (maybe much longer) to get their work polished and read and published, who are still writers. They have chosen other things to be more important. I’m not sure that excludes them from the world of ‘writers.’
The truth though, when it comes down to it, is that you are gonna have to scratch, claw, and bite to be a writer; it will not accidentally happen to you. Not scratching and clawing and biting others; that makes you a social climber, not a writer. Just scratching and itching the page, filling it with words and emptying it again, cutting it into puzzle pieces and figuring out a better shape for it. You, and only you, and not you with all your hobbies, busyness, and friends, will do that work.
It reminds me of an angry French teacher I once talked to who remarked about her own students in a loud, irritated tone, “THEY EXPECT THE LANGUAGE TO FALL UPON THEM LIKE THE WATER OF A SHOWER.” Most likely, unless you are far more blessed than I, writing won’t do that to you, especially with lots of distractions present.
(collaborative writing is cool – not discounting it – but if you are writing your own stuff, having your friends around doesn’t count as collaboration.)
What do you all think about being ruthless? Is it a necessary quality for a professional writer? Is there a better way to phrase how professional writers must be?