Keith MacKenzie 26 letters. A million and more words. No limit to stories.

Overcoming the inertia as a writer

When I posted my rant on the inexcusability of writing excuses two weeks ago, one of my readers commented that, yes, it’s true, we have no excuses as writers and we don’t have any more excuses to not write than a firefighter has any excuses to not fight fires.

Think about it.

MMA fighters don’t have an excuse to not take on Cro-Cop and his debilitating kick to the head.

Students don’t have an excuse for not going to class.

Marathon runners don’t have an excuse to not go for a long run at least several times a week.

So, if you seriously want to cut it as a writer; if you are a writer, then you have no excuse not to write. It’s that simple.

The work is cut out for us: get your sweet ass in the chair, pick up the Bic pen (if you’re one of those paper-munching traditionalists like me) or rest your fingers on that Mac keyboard (if you’re a Jobs-worshipping Apple user, unlike me), and get those words, sentences and paragraphs out of your head and onto the godamned paper or onto the godamned screen.

But one reader commented (at the bottom of that article) that once he was in the game, writing is easy. It’s starting the game that’s hard. He wanted practical advice on how to do that.

Inertia is the word the reader used. He wanted to know how to get out of that nasty rut and get into the groove.

Well, let’s look to what you’re doing right now in your job. Are you an engineer? A tradesman? A construction worker? A barber? A cook? Barista, firefighter, cab driver, newspaper deliverer?

OK, let’s take my job for instance. I’m one of the editors in the newsroom of a local commuter daily in Vancouver. I didn’t just get this job yesterday. Nor did I just walk into the office and get the job right off the bat.

Things don’t happen that way. In a roundabout way, my path towards working in the media started in 2002 when I returned to Vancouver from living overseas. I started volunteering for a local bilingual newspaper called The Source, where I started by writing a simple story about my multicultural experiences overseas. They asked me back for another story, which I wrote. Then they asked me to write a story on local media. That, I did. Then, before I knew it, I had a column where I would write about a different community media house every week. This column was called Behind The Media.

That then led to my own column, Beyond The Noise, where I had more creative licence to write on topics affecting the local community at the time.

Then, I got moved up to assignment editor. I got to choose stories and assign them to other volunteer writers and journalists. Then, after about a year, I was suddenly in the editor-in-chief chair.

This then led to my full-time job at 24 hours. But, even then, I didn’t start that as a full-time job. It started with me coming into the newsroom as a proofreader from 4-8 p.m. every day. Then after a couple of weeks, they asked me to come in full-time, and then I started to design pages as well as proofread.

And then, I took responsibility of the Canada and world news sections, choosing stories that I thought would interest our readership, and designing pages as such. Then that led to having a voice in how the paper would appear, and now, I’m doing the front page and much of the local section. In addition to that, I’m working online on our Twitter account which now has nearly 20,000 followers.

And so on.

My point? This all started with one single step. I walked into The Source’s office in 2003 and told them I wanted to work in their newspaper. And they accepted, saying I’d have to write a story about myself.

One single step. Was it hard work? You betcha. An engineer didn’t become an engineer just because he woke up one morning and say, “Golly, I’m an engineer now!” and go traipsing off to the local nuclear research facility. No, it began when he started going to class in first-year university, and in a roundabout way, he ended up working as an assistant engineer somewhere.

It is also about educating yourself and building your skills, and it’s about surrounding yourself with like-minded folks who are equally passionate about the field. Once the wheels are set in motion through all of this, things start to flow much, much easier.

I’ve learned a lot over the years up to this point, and I’m still learning. But I wouldn’t be at this point in my editorial career if I didn’t take those steps to help me build my career in the first place.

So, let’s take that idea to writing. You don’t just become a writer. You don’t just sit down and expect the writing to happen. No. It takes work. You need to build your expertise, understand the craft, expand your knowledge, meet like-minded people, and so on. Stephen King didn’t just wake up as a writer. He sat down and read books, loved them, and wrote his own. Ditto for Leo Tolstoy, who probably struggled as a writer for years before he figured out that the best time to write was in the early morning before the birds started chirping away. Ditto for Charles Bukowski, who pulled himself out of bed in a drunk slumber in the middle of the night and scribbled down mad scrawlings and somehow got them published.

For you, the reader who felt inertia and needed advice on how to overcome it, I know it’s tough to sit down and write. It’s hard for anyone to get started in anything.

But I have these tokens of advice that can help you feel more motivated in doing so:

  1. Read. Read a lot. Read other books, good ones, bad ones, interesting ones. Through reading, you’ll get a feel for how stories are told, and how sentences are crafted. In fact, you may even read a bad book and think: “Damn it, I can write better than that.” And you’ll feel empowered as a writer.
  2. Learn about the craft of writing. Read Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg – the book I credit with helping me understand just how to sit down and break down my creative barriers, and actually write something coherent, interesting and most of all, complete. Another book that helped me a lot is On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, by Stephen King. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pure storytellers of our generation. Even if his books may be mass-market stuff, he knows how to tell a story and he does it well. He writes all about that in On Writing, and it’s fascinating stuff to get into the head of a guy who’s published dozens of bestsellers. And read magazines and blogs about writing. Writers’ Digest is a great magazine for scribes, and Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, is nothing short of irreverent awesomeness.
  3. Surround yourself with writers. Do this through book clubs and writers’ groups. I have run my own writing group for more than two years now, and it’s been awesome. It’s amazing how much talent is out there, and it’s amazing how much I’ve learned as a writer from this group. I’ve learned as much through reading and critiquing other people’s works as I have through hearing others tell me what I can do to improve my own stories. Not only that, but it keeps me on my feet. We all have to produce something every two weeks and that keeps us motivated.

So, it’s not as simple as sitting down and writing, even though it is that simple. You need to read other works, learn about the craft, and surround yourself with writerly types. Once you do that on a regular basis, I promise you, you’ll find it that much easier to write.

So, go on and do it. It’s like the first step a marathon runner took when he decided he wanted to participate in the Boston Marathon. It’s not easy at the beginning. You’ll stop a lot, resting on your hands and knees and panting and feeling like you’re having a heart attack. Hell, just getting out of bed knowing you’re going to suffer through that horrible run at 7 in the morning is enough to discourage you. You could say that’s inertia working its magic against you.

But the more you do it, the easier it gets. Until one day… you’re actually in the Boston Marathon and wondering how the heck you got there. Until one day… you’re finishing the last pages of your novel and thinking to yourself: Wow, I did it.

So, throw out the excuses. They’re no good to you. Read and learn about writing, and surround yourself with other writers. And write. Good luck!

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About

Four books in the fire. Dozens of short stories fluttering about. Mission: To get the word out.

2 Responses to “Overcoming the inertia as a writer”

  • I saw this blog post on Reddit and I couldn’t help but think the “reader” in your post sounded vaguely like me. As it turns out, I think I *am* that reader. Ha!

    Thanks for responding to my question, and I think you answered it well. The part about being surrounded by writers is what I have trouble with most. I think I need to find some online writing buddies because I can’t seem to find many (or any) offline.

  • You’re welcome, R.J. Thanks for checking out my blog again. Try Meetup and see if there are any writers’ groups in your area or start your own. Sometimes that’s all you need to get writers to come out of the shadows. :)