Stop telling writers they have to be have-to-be writers

My response to a tweet from Northants Authors last week didn’t adequately convey my full annoyance at it.

The original tweet was: ‘“You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.” Joss Whedon’ — followed by some writerly hashtags.

I don’t know who Joss Whedon is, nor whether his or her quote had lost some important context, but presented as it was, I could only take it at face value. I was being told that I, along with no doubt many other writers, should not be writing. It was a thoughtless thing for a group of writers to be saying, and perhaps distressing for a new or aspiring writer to read.

I’ve seen this kind of thing before, of course. Here’s writer Rick Riordan, claiming that “You have to be compelled to write. If you’re not, nothing else that you do matters.”

And bollocks to that as well.

To be clear, I have no problem with writers who have some inner compulsion and declare “I can’t not write” or “I need to be a writer”, nor with those who feel they must write to unburden themselves or work through trauma or pain, nor with people like the wonderful Matt Haig, who feels he had to write to save his life.

All that is fine. And if you feel you are such a person, then good for you.

But it is not OK to tell other writers that this is the only ‘real’ way to be, nor to present this position as morally or intellectually superior, nor to suggest that if this internal impulse is faint or absent then you should not be doing what you’re doing.

I’ve never felt a particularly strong compulsion to write or be a writer, but I don’t feel less of one because of it. I have wanted to do it, and I have done it. Occasional pieces of work have been driven by a greater sense of urgency and desire than others, but I’ve never felt that those which didn’t were any more inferior.

If you’re like me, and insecure about it, please let go of any feelings that you’re not as authentic or as professional or as important or as potentially successful as a writer because you don’t have that inextinguishable fire in your belly to write. Let go of any feelings that your work isn’t as worthy or your chosen career path isn’t as wise. Let go of any belief that you need to feel differently about writing or being a writer.

If you’re a writer speaking about your visceral drive to do what you do, please do it in a manner mindful of the many kinds of aspiring writers out there who might be hanging on your every word.

And if you’re dishing out writing advice, then please stop thoughtlessly piling on the pressure.

Stop telling writers that they should be writing.

Stop telling writers that they should write every day.

Stop telling writers that they should never give up.

And stop telling writers that they have to be have-to-be writers.

Comments 7

  • Sounds a bit desperate to me. And precious.
    When I read (which isn’t as often as I used to…) I like down-to-earth commonsense – even from fantasy (come back Terry Pratchett), as produced by people who have a life.
    And there’s the other side of the coin… because someone feels a compulsion to write doesn’t mean they are going to be any good at it.
    Broaden your outlook. go out and get some experience. Learn to do other things. Your writing will probably benefit; your life certainly will.

  • Now who’s using the sweary-type words in their blog .

  • 🙁 My emoji didn’t print in my comment above. It’s supposed to be a rolling on the floor laughing emoji after that sentence!

  • Now why did the emoji print on the comment above, but not the one above that? Of course, the upshot is, I’ve now done all this writing on your Comments form, which I was driven to write because I have-to-be doing some writing every day to hit my word counts to feel like a proper writer 😉

  • Writers are not all the same. We write different things, in different ways, for different reasons. We might write poetry to amuse ourselves or a friend, journalism to pay the rent or raise awareness of issues we feel important, memoirs to inform others or unburden ourselves, novels in the hope of fame or getting stocked by the local library… It’s just stupid to think that any one writing rule applies to us all.

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