Today, social media worked itself into an outrage…
Wait, let me start over, because social media works itself into an outrage every goddamned day.
Today, social media worked itself into an outrage and decided it was Neil Gaiman’s turn. On Twitter, Neil offered an endorsement of the Clarion Writing Program, with which he has a long history (something that is no different than say, me Tweeting an endorsement of Scares That Care). He Tweeted: “clarion.ucsd.edu is where you apply to go to Clarion. If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.” Immediately after this, approximately 220,000 Tumblr warriors and would-be writers poured their outrage onto social media, accusing Neil of everything from classism to being a paid shill. As is SOP for the internet outrage machine, they did this based on that lone Tweet, disregarding and ignoring the volumes of Blog entries and essays Neil has written about becoming a writer, and advice to such.
The only thing Neil was guilty of was engaging in hyperbole and not considering that, as large as his audience is, there are probably more than a few wingnuts in it who will take issue with anything he says. As Nick Mamatas said earlier this evening, “Aspiring writers are always hysterics but any writer handing out advice should know that and avoid expansive claims.” Could Neil have worded that Tweet more carefully? Sure, maybe. But he’s Neil Gaiman and everybody loves him and he probably genuinely didn’t ever consider there would be a blow back like this — because why would there be? Hitting Neil Gaiman is like shooting into a barrel full of puppies.
Now, me on the other hand? I commit more accidental micro-aggressions before breakfast than most people do all fucking day. So let me explain to you what you NEED to do if you want to be a writer.
You need to write every day.
You need to find an hour in your day and you need to sit down and you need to write. Writing does not constitute playing Xbox or looking at funny GIFS on the internet or talking about writing with other writers. Writing involves sitting your ass down in a chair and committing words from your head to either paper or screen.
Going to Clarion or any other sort of writing workshop or MFA certainly won’t hurt. They will probably help. But not everyone can do that. I never went to Clarion or any other sort of workshop. I never went to college. I barely graduated high school. Despite that, I’ve done okay for myself, with over 40 books in print in fourteen different countries, and a dozen literary awards, and even a few movies. I bring people joy. I entertain them. And I’m able to feed my children doing so.
I achieved that by sitting in a fucking chair and writing every day.
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, or whether your sentences are short or long, or how many followers you have on Twitter, or how many Likes you have on Facebook, or how many times your Tumblr Blog about Spider-Gwen’s new costume was shared. It doesn’t matter which writing organizations you belong to, or which writer’s groups you’re a member of online. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, or what workshop you attended, or whether you got published via New York or a small press, or indeed, whether you got published at all. None of those things make you a writer. Getting published doesn’t make you a writer.
What makes you a writer is sitting in a chair every day and writing.
“Oh, Brian. I can’t. I have kids, a job, parents, school, Fallout 4 to play, the new season of Jessica Jones to binge watch…” Bullshit. So do I. So do all of us. You’re no different than anybody else. If you want to be a writer, you make the time to write. You get up an hour early, go to bed an hour later, skip your lunch break, dictate it via a voice recorder during your commute, etc.
You find a way. That’s what you NEED to do. That’s all you NEED to do. But you’d be surprised how many would be “writers” can’t commit to that. Instead, they’ll write about not having time to write.