Question from FB: “Is writing like a drug you love and hate at the same time?”

A question posted in the Fiction Writing FB group (the OP has asked to remain anonymous):

“It seems that there are a large number of posters here who want terribly to “be a writer”, even if they struggle with motivation and other similar things (you’ve all seen the posts). Many people seem to be fighting hard against the reality looming in on them that maybe, just maybe, writing is not for them.

“The reason for this post is that I’d like to ask the following question: what is it about “being a writer” that is so fantastic that people fight to the death and into depression and beyond in some cases, to avoid the inevitable decision that, maybe it is not the right path for them? It seems to be for some people a very stressful addiction, almost like a drug they love and hate at the same time. Quite curious.”

My reply:

I think it’s possible that some people are in love with the IDEA of being a writer, the same way that some folks are in love with the idea of being the lead singer in a band, or of being an award-winning scientist. And there’s nothing wrong with having that dream.

What saddens me is seeing people who want to be writers but who are not willing to put in the hard work: the people who are always looking for shortcuts, when the truth is that writing is a long murderous grind of practicing relentlessly, doing your research, and figuring out your own voice. I try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes it’s discouraging to watch people who want something so badly but aren’t approaching the task in a mindful, productive way.

When people tell me they want to be a writer, the first thing I ask is, “Well, what have you written so far?” In a surprising number of cases that answer is “Nothing yet, but…” No “buts”! I tell them that you become a writer by writing, even if you start out with stuff like blog posts, journal entries, and flash fiction. Get into the habit of writing regularly, and finding writers whose work you admire so that you can study the craft of writing. And above all, KEEP WRITING.

Some folks seem pretty disappointed to hear that advice. Unfortunately it’s the only advice I can offer that I’ve found reliably works. (Same thing goes for working in the comics industry, which is also a question I hear, a lot.)

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