What Neil Gaiman, Brian Keene, And You NEED to Do To Be A Writer

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.

21 thoughts on “What Neil Gaiman, Brian Keene, And You NEED to Do To Be A Writer

  1. It’s really easy for people to call themselves “creatives”(I don’t like using the term but it’s an easy way to tie together painting, poetry, music, writing…all the things people like to say they do), but the actual meat of the work? It’s a pain in the ass sometimes(and people who say it’s never a pain in the ass probably haven’t done enough of it, or else they’re blessed), but if you’re invested enough in doing it, you’ll actually get it together and do it.

    Great blog on it, Brian. Very well said.

  2. In about five years of reading this blog, this is the second time I’ve been moved to comment. Brian is 100% accurate. A writer writes every day, constantly. Responisibilties exist and must be attended to, and then it’s back to stories. Sometimes the days/nights may even blur–but for a writer the time working on a story moves the way a high does for a junkie or binge play does for a video game addict. It flies fast while fully immersed, and one only ever wants more of it.

  3. Dammit, Keene! You are such a shill!! I can’t believe you would tell us that we need to write every day to write well!!! How much did the word processor and paper companies pay you for such crap advice?!?!

    You should be ashamed of yourself!

  4. On the nail, as always.
    I didn’t manage to finish college, because of a lack of money, but I’m currently writing my 20th novel and like you, I earn a living doing just that. I get asked a lot “how did you write so many?” or “how do you write a novel?” and there really is only one answer.

    Sit down, open a word processor of your choice, or grab a pen and paper, and just write. Do this as often as you can.
    You don’t even need an hour a day. If you take twenty minutes to write just one page every day, in a year you will write a novel-length story.
    Do that for ten years. Do it for twenty years.

    When I say that, folks look at me like I’m lying to them or holding back a secret, like there has to be something more to it.
    And, yeah, I’m pretty sure I lost a lot of writing time to Fallout 4 (Oh yes, I seriously did!), but I still wrote five novels last year and I’ll write at least six this year.

    Sit in the chair and your muse will meet you there.

    Keep rocking those books, Brian. I’ll read every one of them!

  5. “disregarding and ignoring the volumes of Blog entries and essays Neil has written about becoming a writer”

    Not to mention the numerous follow-up tweets Gaiman wrote explaining what he meant, reiterating the same point you make above, etc. But the Internet outrage machine doesn’t care, because the Internet outrage machine doesn’t bother to think for itself. It is viral, moving from one person to the next like the flu, and none of them bother to investigate what it is they’re talking about.

  6. While I largely agree with the concept of “ass in chair,” not everyone works best following that advice. Writers write, sure, but insisting that writers must write every day? You can be a writer if you only have the time to write on weekday mornings. Or if you diligently work every weekend. Or every other day from dawn until dusk. There is no mold. No blueprint. A strongly worded suggestion? Definitely.

  7. I compleatly agree with what you are saying on what it takes to become a writer. I’m not a writer but yeah, I’ve thought about it before. I’m in college right now at 35 years of age. I did take a writing class for 7 weeks, so what your saying makes sense. Mt writing skills have increased 10 fold over the course of that class. I spell better, I type faster and have drawn a few wows here and there for a couple of papers I’ve written. Yes, my xbox calls to me from the other room to play Fallout 4 but it needs to wait. Practice is the key! There’s no way around it. And what the hell is up with this spider gwen thing anyway? I’ve seen the covers but refuse to read them…..Marvel is too weird and a little disconnected now a days!

  8. It’s an aspect of Sturgeon’s Law. 90% of people most likely to post something on social media are complete fucking imbeciles. Having spent a little time with Ted Sturgeon in the 70s, I suspect he would find that number a little low.

  9. This is almost as irritating as Gaiman’s original tweet. It reminds me of that ‘make good art’ speech that so many people were kvelling over (ignoring the fact that the speech was directed at graduates of an art college).

    He wrote a foolish, unconsidered tweet, aimed at the writers he knows. The non-famous and non-affluent writers, who foolishly thought that being a writer depends on *writing*, and not taking five weeks at a workshop, were understandably nettled and said so. Fortunately for Mr. Gaiman, he doesn’t even need to summon his flying monkeys – they defend him pro bono.

    When I choose to create, it is not because a famous writer gives me permission – or withholds it.

  10. You missed my point.

    Mr. Gaiman and you address yourselves *to* the special people.

    The rest of us occasionally raise our voices, despite your magisterial disdain. I realize that having your gatekeeper authority challenged is unpleasant. Being dismissed as one of the people who should not create is also unpleasant, but yet I persevere.

  11. Mr. Keene, please feel free to delete this after reading.

    I realize that I am not going to change your mind, and I hope that you will not change mine. What I wanted to let you know was this – there are those of us who believe ourselves to be creative, who have chosen to believe that, if we are writing, we are writers, and if we are drawing, we are artists. This despite the Brian Keenes and Neil Gaimans of the world, who would define ‘artist’ and ‘writer’ carefully enough to exclude those like us.

    Like me.

    When you tell me that the writing I do does not make me a writer, or that the drawings I do do not make me an artist, I resist. I rebel. I reject.

    I will not change your mind on this. But now you know that you have not yet changed mine.

    1. The only thing I know is that you seem to care very passionately about something, but lack the writing ability to clearly express it (at least in a way that is lucid or makes sense here).

  12. I care passionately about being able to create art, despite not being an artist. I am painfully aware of my non-specialness. When people insist that art is for artists, it hurts. When someone whose work I admire and enjoy does the same, it hurts more.

    Every time I sit down to draw, the chorus of voices telling me to stop is deafening. I persist, despite not being one of the special people who are supposed to create.

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