And sometimes, blogs

My Favorite Quote

“You can’t be a writer unless you write. Otherwise, you’re just a thinker.”

I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time. At least as far back as middle school. In 6th grade, I wrote the first half of a fantasy novel that was going to be the first book in a series of at least four—with vague ideas for another 6+ books on top of that first quadrilogy. I was writing a chapter every day, starting them during my free period in school and finishing them that night at home.

… And then Thanksgiving break started, and I put the story down for a day, and I was never able to pick it back up again. (At least, not until I finished it a full 17 years later, staying entirely true to my ridiculous childhood story outline as a joke.)

My history as an aspiring writer is filled with such things. Stories that were abandoned after one chapter, or five, or thirty, or sixty. Story ideas that never saw the light of day beyond some scraps of a canceled outline… if I got as far as starting an outline in the first place.

So what would I do with all my time instead of actually writing those stories? Browse the Internet, mostly. Talk to online friends. Play video games. Post on a few forums, for some of those years. And all the while, I kept occasionally mustering up the energy to actually write something… for a few days, or a few months, or sometimes just a few minutes before I quit. Because sometimes, even just a few minutes away from the nonstop dopamine machine of the world wide web was too much.

Multiple decades of me telling myself “I want to be a writer,” and then rarely following through.

Multiple decades of me thinking about writing instead of actually doing it.

***

I think about this post’s quote pretty often. I saw it on Tumblr years ago, on a blog that has long since been either deleted or privatized. Its origin may have been lost, but I am never going to let myself forget this quote and everything it stands for.

“You can’t be a writer unless you write. Otherwise, you’re just a thinker.”

It’s a quote that hits me hard, because it’s a direct callout of everything I am. I’m not a writer, because I don’t write enough to consider myself one. I’m a thinker. I merely think about stories and about writing, and if I ever get too complacent (which I have at various points in my life), thinking is all I ever do.

This quote motivates me more than any other self-help advice I’ve ever found. I’ve used this quote plenty of times to push myself out of my inertia and get some actual dang writing done. Heck, I did it with this very post. And I’ll probably do it with the next one, and with my next work of fiction.

Critics might look at this quote and think it’s poorly phrased, or that it’s slightly ungrammatical, or that it’s not the most concise way to convey its idea. And you know what? I like this quote more because of its lack of polish.

One of the things that makes the act of writing into such a struggle for me is my unrelenting perfectionism. I write laughably slowly, because I’m constantly referencing dictionaries and thesauruses and rewriting sentences over and over and saying them aloud each time until I’m sure that they flow well enough, that they have a good rhythm, that they just “sound” good enough in general.

Most writers (professionals and amateurs alike) would agree that that is a terrible way to write a first draft.

But this quote doesn’t give a shit about perfect formal English construction, and it plows on full steam ahead to remind its reader that you don’t have to be perfect either. It’s okay to be messy, because sometimes it’s better to have done something messily than to have not done it at all. (It’s a lesson I’m still trying to take to heart, but I’m working on it. That long sentence about how I write laughably slowly? I only wrote three versions of it before moving on.)

Writing is hard. Motivation is hard. Momentum is hard. And still, I want to be a writer.

And that means I must write.

1 Comment

  1. sharkerbob

    This reminds me of an exchange between a comic artist named Merriweather and one of his readers. Someone asks him, “How did you become a good writer?” Merri responds with, “I never became a good writer. I just wrote.”

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