Okay. This thing here happened:
On his Tumblr, popular Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis often responds to fan questions. Many of the questions are about the writing process. Over the weekend, he got a question that kicked off more of a controversy than usual. Here’s the question:
what advice do you have for someone that has had writers block for the past 6 or 7 years?
Mr. Bendis’s response was as follows:
this will sound harsh but you’re probably not a writer.
writers write every day. it’s ok, not everyone is.
but if you consider yourself one, get off your ass and get back to work!! write about why you haven’t been writing . anything. just write.
It seems that a lot of people took exception to this answer. Some of the responses, as quoted by Mr. Constant at The Slog, are:
Fuck you people and your bullshit labels. Notice in the question, which you barely addressed before you started liberally applying your condescending nonsense to this person’s life, the words “am I a writer” do not appear. So how about you fling open the stupid gates of your dumb categorizations of people and let writers be people who write as little or as much as they want to or are able, so long as it makes them whole and happy.
Haven’t written in a year because I work 12s (during which I brainstorm) for 14 days shifts, and have two kids. But I can’t keep a schedule of writing up, and my brain is literally too exhausted to think at the end of my work day, and I’m chasing two kids during my two weeks off, have a house to maintain, and am trying to recover from my schedule.
But make no mistake. I don’t write it on paper or in a word processor every day, but I have whole finished stories written in my head.
…This post is ableist as fuck. Some weeks, I’m lucky if I can get myself in the shower at least once. But I’m expected to write EVERY DAY?! Apparently only neurotypicals are allowed to be writers.
Fuck that and fuck you.
Oh, dear. Mr. Bendis has plenty of defenders, including these here:
writing is a discipline, a practice, a religion …
i would love to consider myself all kinds of things but unless i’m actually actively doing them i am probably kidding myself.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.- STEPHEN KING
Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. – RAY BRADBURY
I’m not all that impressed by someone who turns to quotes from more famous writers. That doesn’t mean this person is wrong.
There’s also this one:
The excuse of waiting for inspiration leads to exactly what is described; 6 to 7 years of producing nothing. This is the difference between being a writer and someone who likes to write.
A writer fucking writes. Whether she likes it or not, whether she wants to or not, whether she’s inspired or not. She pushes the boulder, like Sisyphus, until the damn thing rolls or shatters or reverses and crushes her. But she doesn’t sit there and wait until it feels good or it feels right or until the stars are right or anything else. Writing takes discipline infinitely more than it takes talent. That’s the dirty little secret of being a writer. You want to be a writer? Put your ass in the chair and put in your 10,000 hours and your 100,000 pages and then you’ll be a writer.
And yes, I know how harsh this sounds. I know what it sounds like. But it’s the difference between being a writer and simply being someone who feels good about putting their words down when they feel it.
If you want to argue that waiting is necessary, it’s what’s required, then I would offer you’re making excuses for why you’re not writing.
Writing isn’t a profession and it isn’t a hobby. It’s a fucking debilitating illness. It’s an addiction. You either write or you don’t. But you don’t sit around waiting for inspiration. It’s a craft, and you hone it, the way you would hone any other craft — by doing it.
Now get the hell off my lawn.
As Mr. Constant points out, comparing writing to addiction, illness, or torture (elsewhere) is not helpful. Many of the people reading these posts actually live with mental illness and/or addiction, and many have experienced torture. They will not thank us for likening an occupation to their problems.
Clearly, I wouldn’t bother blogging about this if I didn’t have some opinion on it. I don’t write every single day, but I’m a writer. It would be nice if I managed to write every single day. It doesn’t work out like that, but somehow, I do finish major projects.
To the bloggers who complain of time/energy deficits and mental illness: I sympathize, I really do. I don’t write as much as I want to, either. I have to work a full-time job to pay the rent, and my workload has become so absurd I hardly ever get to take a lunch break anymore. Between the workday and the commute, I’m away from home from 7:15 AM to 7:00 PM five days a week, and I’m usually so tired/overwhelmed/annoyed on the Metro that I just can’t concentrate well enough to get any work done during my commute. I’m prone to depression, and I have undiagnosed but very obvious ADD. I spent most of the past year in a relationship that accomplished nothing except to eat up most of my limited free time. I’m in my thirties and I don’t function on a sleep deficit like I did in my college years.
Despite all that, I just got my editor’s feedback on my second completed novel.
I don’t agree with openly characterizing writing as a mental illness or addiction, but it does often feel like a compulsion. In economic terms, my writing thus far is an expensive hobby. I write because there are stories that I really, really want to tell, and there’s no way to get those stories out there except by putting the pictures in my head to words. That involves a lot of time spent sitting in front of a monitor, and it’s not always fun.
Sometimes, writing means doing things that aren’t good for your physical health or social life. I don’t even want to think about how many late nights I spent in 2011 revising Charlinder’s Walk rather than going to sleep at a reasonable hour. I often tell my family I’m too busy to visit because I have to work, and those late nights and solitary days aren’t necessarily devoted to creativity so much as relentless nit-picking and anal-retentive perfectionism. To be a writer, you find the time and you summon the energy to put the ideas on paper. If you keep waiting until you have time to write, it’ll never happen.
Is there some privilege involved in being able to find the time and summon the energy? Of course there is. There’s class privilege and able-bodied privilege, at the very least. That doesn’t change the fact that stories don’t write themselves. There’s tremendous able-bodied privilege in being a gymnast or a ballerina, too. You’re not a ballet dancer for picturing yourself executing the pirouette and plié. I’d like to learn a programming language and develop Mac apps, but until I somehow make room in my schedule to do the learning and code the app, I’m not a programmer, I’m just a smartass with ideas in her head. These aren’t value judgments. They’re matters of cause and effect.
One might say, instead: “I’m an aspiring writer.” “I dream of being a writer.” “When I get a job with a more humane schedule, and when my kids are mature enough to be okay without supervision, I’ll be a writer.” “When I can afford the therapy/meds to get my depression under control, I’ll be a writer, but even as I am now, I have plans and ideas.”
All the above statements are okay. You’re not a moral failure for having family commitments and an abusive work schedule. But make no mistake: a writer is someone who puts ideas into words, whether on paper or in a text file. People aren’t interested in the stories you’d like to write unless they can see what you’ve written.