Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

There is a common misconception that a writer is a particular sort of person. That being a writer is something you’re born into, that someone either can write or can’t. There also is a second common misconception:  the idea that people have to want to read what you write for it to be “good.”

Given these misconceptions, only the published can stand out as “writers,” and even then only the commercially successful published are held as objects worthy of imitation.

But let’s not even complicate the matter of writing with questions of commercial success and whether one must win some sort of lottery at birth to have the “right stuff” to write what people want to read.

No. Instead, let’s look for a moment at personal writing. Writing for you, or maybe a close friend or two. This isn’t exactly the kind of writing that happens all that often – or, rather, you don’t hear about it happening all that often—because that’s precisely the nature of it. And the thing about this kind of writing is it doesn’t have to be “good” the way best-sellers or literary classics are “good.” All it has to be is yours. And as someone who exists, I understand there’s more corn in that sentence than in the global agriculture industry, so allow me to provide an actual example of this type of writing:

As a cripplingly analytical individual obsessed with the metaphysical, I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis based on the possibility of free will. Without going into details, the crux of the issue was that there can of course be no absolute resolution. There is no answer, yet I was desperate for one. Thus, the need for this one piece of fiction: a setting in which there must be a resolution regardless of my inability to know one. That is, in writing I could create the necessary circumstances to better understand myself.

Let’s be clear: this was probably the worst story I ever wrote in my life—and that includes those ones I wrote in second grade. It was a couple pages, done in an hour, and truthfully was such garbage even flies couldn’t stand it. But that’s not important, because neither you nor anyone else is ever going to read it. All it did was what it had to do: it resolved my cognitive dissonance.

Obviously there are more uses for writing than settling the inner turmoil brought about by an excessive need for agency; all this example set out to prove is it didn’t matter if it was good, or made sense, or had a solid plot or possessed meaningful character development or even had proper spelling. Sometimes writing is its own reward.

All I hope to express is that you don’t need to be a writer to write. If you’re an avid reader—and surely you are if you’re reading a column on a fiction magazine’s blog—there’s something you get from a story. Sometimes you can get it from your own story, too, even if you—like me—would sooner set it on fire than on a shelf.

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Alyssa Rochelle White, BFR Staff

There are points in a writer’s life when the creative juices are not flowing. The juices have hit a block, a wall, and they say to the writer, “let us not be productive today.” The writer complies, justifying the lack of output by thinking that motivation will come later. Then the writer gets the idea to go search for that motivation. Stories have been found whilst watching people in the park and meandering through a pharmaceutical store, so the writer questions how difficult it can really be.

We’ve all been there with that hope that the story will just come to us out of thin air. I don’t mean to dismiss the figure of the muse, the fantastical expectation that ideas can appear from nothing, for the world would be a much bleaker place without that creative fall back. However, it is in the wait and the search for creativity that the writer becomes co­dependent on external modes of motivation, forgetting that the only true mode of writing is the act of writing itself. If we strip away the inspiration that every “Ten Steps to become a better Writer” tells us we need, we find that all we truly need is a writer with a will to write.

But with the need for motivation, the writer goes on the hunt. The writer’s mind is still constrained and will be constrained until the simplicity of a pen and napkin is taken up. Before that, the writer will search through writer manifestos, talks on writing, and even print out the fancy posters that say, “You are a writer!” This type of writing advice (and affirmation of one’s writerly status) can help when used in moderation and when molded to the writer’s own style. But the accumulation of tips and tricks that line the internet more often than not creates further boundaries to get through. The advice says, “No! Don’t do it that way! You won’t get published!” And the writer shall digress out of fear. Then the writer reads books about writing and blogs about storytelling and tweets from people that are supposedly writing. And this should all trigger . . . something? Some form of inspiration is expected to burst out of the writer’s chest with every word of a novel ejaculated in the course of one day.

That’s not how it works, though. So, what’s missing? Well maybe it’s the atmosphere. Coffee needs to be made, a rain dance needs to be done, and music needs to be played, matching the tone of the novel and emphasizing the emotion that will prompt the words forward.

And still, nothing.

Not even rain.

After all this is done, the writer still wonders why the words aren’t coming. And the answer is that the writer hasn’t taken the time to mess up, to fail, to create a horrible slosh of words that will need to be edited later. The life of the modern day writer has become a bag full of “when’s.” When I’m inspired. When I’m motivated. When I find the time. When I know the exact thing to write. When it all lines up.

But the art of spilling ink (even at the keyboard) is messy and in turn it’s productive.

Writing a book takes the time that it takes, and that means it takes three weeks or three months or three years. Let it take the time. But don’t let time be something that escapes you. Don’t be the writer that says time cannot be found. Time is everywhere. And when you do find time, don’t be the writer who says, “Well now that I’m here, I have time to write, but I don’t know what to write about.” Write about anything. Write about the fear of writing and go from there. Fail and fail hard because among twenty horribly written stories, blogs, and novels comes a well­-written piece of work. Failure provides powerful lessons. It affords insight. You can feel good about failure. Failure means you did something. And you could do it with all those modes of motivation mentioned above; I know I’ve resorted to using them countless times over my life. But it is important to know that you are not a lost writer without them.

Jenna Lee, BFR Staff

A writer, above all other professionals, ought to be self-aware. Nothing is more detestable than writing that is hypocritical. To prevent hypocrisy, a writer ought to walk the talk. She ought to wield truth like a sword and hack away at herself—especially at those parts of herself that would inspire ridicule in any reasonable reader.

What might inspire ridicule? For one, arrogance. Arrogance is a most dangerous thing for a writer to nurse. Those who are arrogant should take care to be perfect, for the slightest slip of tongue, slip of the pen, slip in reputation would be greeted with delight, rather than sympathy, laughter instead of sadness. An arrogant writer has no friends—and those friends she has are like herself, so respect is scarce in her midst. Arrogance is the antithesis of respect, so a writer should never pander to herself when the seeds of arrogance sprout in her breast. Hack away at those sprouts! The pen is only as mighty as the writer who wields it.

In that vein, it is imperative that a writer bring a fresh perspective to things. Banality is unforgiveable in writing, as in life. People will put up with satire, with something that inflames their passions and anger, but will rarely, if ever, put up with writing (or speech) that bores them. A reader’s attention is a precious thing, and should never be squandered. Risk saying too little rather than saying too much. Brevity conveys meaning better than a superfluity of words.

And the final thing that inspires ridicule is anger. A writer must not write from a place of uncontrolled passion. If a writer can be lucid about their passion, put words to their rage, that is one thing, but uncontrolled anger is something ugly to behold. Few people will applaud such an exhibition of unbridled angst. If you must be angry, find the appropriate words to explain your anger. Articulate anger is something to be respected.

Of course, I have done all of these things myself. I have been arrogant, boring, and angry. So of course I agree that writers deserve some leeway to grow and make mistakes. But writing is ineffectual unless it contains seeds of truth. Journalism lacks purpose unless coupled with character. And the character of a writer is doubly important, for she is a ledger for a section of humankind. Writers ought to be their own worst critics, to an extent. While the act of writing should be playful and spontaneous, subsequent readings should be done with an intent to “kill our darlings.”

Let us not pander to our egos. Let us see the negativity in the world as an indication of internal negativity that we could work through in ourselves. Let us not blame others. Let us seek to take responsibility for our own feelings. Let us find happiness and confidence in ourselves, so we can be a light illuminating, rather than a sound and fury signifying nothing. Words, in their most exalted moments, take on the importance of deeds.