By Bonnie Burton
Whenever I tell someone that I am a full-time author, almost always I’m met with an expression of envy and the question, “So do you write all day in your pajamas?”
The short answer is, yes many times I write in flannel pjs, or more often than not a ratty Star Wars T-shirt and yoga pants, both covered in dog hair and crumbs. It’s not an elegant costume to write in, but it’s comfy.
But the bigger issue here isn’t my lack of fashion sense, but the common myths so many non-writers have about the professional life of a writer. There are both good and bad aspects of being a writer. And unless you sit down to write a novel for the first time, you just can’t experience them. Luckily, those of you doing NaNoWriMo will understand what it means to call yourself a writer.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first.
Make your own hours. This might sounds like it should be under the “Good” heading, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll write and write and write thinking only a couple of hours have passed by, when in fact you look up at the clock and suddenly it’s 4 am. This isn’t such a big deal if you’re only roommate is a dog or a cat, but when humans share your home this time warping can annoy your family and housemates. It can also wreak havoc with friendships and relationships. You’ll be late to everything during your novel-writing endeavors, mainly because you will literally be lost in your own world for hours. So if you want to live like a normal human, set alarms on your clocks and phone to remind yourself to eat, sleep, bathe, and go have a social life.
The Fraud Police are coming! When you lead a creative life as a writer, there will be more than just one moment when you feel like you’re a hack and should quit. This usually happens when you notice you’ve deleted more of your book than you’ve written, or when the book you just published isn’t making its way up the New York Times Bestseller’s List. The Fraud Police is the nickname we give that nagging negative voice inside our heads. It usually shows up for me when I look at the success of my fellow authors and compare my life to theirs. Big mistake! Success comes to writers at a different pace and for different reasons. There’s no one set timeline that all authors can rely on to determine if we achieved greatness. Do yourself a favor and read a few biographies of your favorite writers such as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Neil Gaiman to see what hardships they had to overcome to get where they are today. You might be surprised to learn they still worry about the Fraud Police knocking on their doors as well.
Writer’s block is real. The one thing all writers fear more than 1-star Amazon reviews or no one showing up to book signings, is the dreaded writer’s block. What happens when you’re halfway through writing your book and suddenly the creativity well runs dry? First of all, don’t panic! Walk away from your computer, notepad, journal, whatever. Go for a stroll outside. Play with your dog in the park. See a movie. Read a book. Sit in a cafe and draw people sitting at tables near you. Visit an art museum. Do anything but stare at a blank page hoping words will spill out of your brain. Eventually, your trips outside will spark something new and your muse will return all in good time.
You get to play God. World-building is satisfying in that you get to create characters, their environments, and even their fates. It’s fun work, no matter how time consuming it can be. I’ve spent months just designing animals that I barely mention in the story. When you get to make a world up from scratch, it’s a blast to write endless characters then think up ghastly things to do to them. I find that the urban planning of a new planet is even more interesting. If you play video games like World of Warcraft or Skyrim, you’ll understand the lure of world building already. But this is all of your own creation, so take your time and enjoy yourself.
Writing feels rewarding. Not every profession is as productive as writing. When you type away at your computer or write in an notepad, you can see your work progress in front of you, word by word. Whether it’s an epic novel or a compelling short story, you’ve made something special that no one else has. Even if you use popular plot tropes or familiar characters, your writing is 100% you. It’s one-of-a-kind, and an unique representation of who you are and what you care about right now. Pat yourself on the back. Not everyone has the moxie to write a book.
No meetings or cranky customers. This is my favorite part of being an author. I don’t have to sit in any pointless meetings with bored colleagues, staring at a Power Point presentation that I won’t remember when I leave the office. I don’t have to be harassed by unsatisfied customers who hate the sandwich I just made or are annoyed I don’t have a dress in their size. Granted, as a writer who sells books solo or through a publisher, you still have to deal with readers and book reviewers, but that’s nothing compared to working as a customer service person at a retail company, trust me.
You get to call yourself a writer. This is a big deal. Sure, it might sound like a vain confession, but being a writer means you’re part of an elite group of creative troublemakers and visionaries that make the world a more interesting place. Without writers, we wouldn’t have stories to enjoy and tell. Writers give a voice to those who can’t express themselves. Writers show us how to travel to other places just by using our imaginations. Writers make us cry, laugh, scream and dream. Congrats, you’re a writer. Now go finish that novel.
Bonnie Burton writes about pop culture. Her books include: CRAFTING WITH FEMINISM (Quirk Books), THE STAR WARS CRAFT BOOK (Random House), STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS: PLANETS IN PERIL (DK Readers), DRAW STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Klutz Books), YOU CAN DRAW: STAR WARS (DK Children), GIRLS AGAINST GIRLS: WHY WE ARE MEAN TO EACH OTHER AND HOW WE CAN CHANGE (Zest Books), and NEVER THREATEN TO EAT YOUR CO-WORKERS: BEST OF BLOGS (Apress). She also contributed to anthologies: WOMANTHOLOGY: HEROIC (IDW Publishing), WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE (IDW Publishing) and THE MUNCHKIN BOOK (Smart Pop). Bonnie writes for CNET.com, and has written for Lucasfilm, Disney, Wired, Playboy, Star Wars Insider, SFX Magazine, Geek, Bust, Craft and Organic Living. FMI, go to her website at www.grrl.com.