Upon having an idea for a book or short story, one of the first questions many people ask themselves is: am I really a writer? They may have a plot, or perhaps a character begging to be brought to life, but they also often have a day job, a wife/husband, kids, mortgage, and in some cases, all of the above. The focus and commitment required to actually complete a novel can be overwhelming, prompting many people to ask themselves if they truly have what it takes.
Years ago when I was taking writing classes at UCLA Extension, I met many people pondering this question. In fact, every class was full of them. As I explored the depth of this topic on their behalf as well as my own, it occurred to me that most of us fell into one of two categories: (1) those that wrote whenever they had time; whether it was in the mornings before the kids went to school, during lunch breaks at work, or late at night when everyone else was fast asleep, and (2) those who weren’t actively writing and were taking the class in the hopes that paying for a course would motivate them to finally sit down and get to work on the idea they’d been carrying around in their heads for so long.
These two, roughly defined categories reminded me of my youth, when I use to be an avid basketball player. For over twenty-five years, I religiously showed up at the local gym, played for hours, and only went home when the gym closed or there was no one left to play with.
Back then basketball was in my blood. I’d never make it to the pros, but being away from the court for more than a few days still felt like a tangible pain—an ache deep inside me that could only be quenched by throwing on my Nikes and sweating it out on the hardwood.
In order to truly be a writer, you need that same type of passion. You need a hunger for words to carry you through the stretches were you’re not quite sure what comes next. You need the determination to stick with the story even when it’s hiding (For more on this topic, see my blog about the Pool).
And just like basketball, you need to work to get better. Just as I practiced lay-ups and jump shots, dribbling and passing, a writer practices by studying other authors and by writing and rewriting—constantly finding new, creative ways to express their ideas.
If you truly have the passion, you write regardless of your circumstances, just as I hobbled around the basketball court countless times with a bum shoulder or sprained ankle I’d twisted only moments earlier.
When it comes to the two types of people who want to be writers, the distinction is simple: one group finds a way, the other doesn’t. If you find yourself not writing, then chances are you aren’t a writer at heart. You may have the talent, but not the drive to sustain you. On the other hand, if you find yourself compelled to write regardless of skill or circumstance, then there’s a good chance it’s in your blood. In that case, keep going!
Remember: no one is born an expert. You need passion to carry you through the long journey to acquire even a modest level of expertise. The more you write, the better you become and, the better you become, the easier it will be to finally tell that story you’re carrying around inside you.