Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Stay Hungry

Will I make it as a writer? One by one, we asked this question of a writing guru. It was before I'd sold a word, fiction or nonfiction. I got an ambiguous answer, but the one that stuck with me was, "You've got no choice." This was addressed to a fellow student who had a disabling genetic disease. Writing was probably her one shot on any happiness in this life.

Commitment. Drive. Hunger. If you want to create a body of work, fulfill your dreams as a writer, and "make it," this cannot be a casual activity. Max Adams puts it well: "Nobody ever won an Olympic medal just showing up weekends and winging it."

If you've got no choice, you'll stay hungry. I had a teacher who suggested that if I really wanted to be a writer,  I needed to get a boring, dead-end job. A day job I was desperate to quit. He may have been right. Some of my most productive periods have been when things weren't going well at the office. But there is a risk. Mind-numbing work can numb your mind. Writing for a buck can dull your taste for the good stuff. Desperation can lead to unfortunate choices. And it is possible to die, as a writer, from neglect. Hungry does not equal starving.

The right spot for you is somewhere between contentment and desperation. With that in mind, here are five suggestions for getting and staying hungry:
  • Have reasons to write. Do you want recognition? Do you have something you need to say or a change you want to create? Do you want to hobnob with celebrities? Your reason to write is your business, but write it down. Keep it in front of you. And, while you're at it, write down the reasons why your current project must be completed. It won't do much for your writing career if you work on something new every day and never finish anything.
  • Form the habit. They say it takes 30 days. So write every day for at least that long. If it is long enough, you'll find yourself itching to put words on paper even before you realize what that feeling is. (Warning: If you stay away from writing for 30 days, you'll have a new habit. Avoiding writing.)
  • Seek out small successes. Enter a contest. Have an actor read your work. Find a market on duotrope.com Take a detour and write a flash fiction story in one sitting. You don't need to make the bestsellers list to be recognized, interpreted, or published. You don't need to finish you magnum opus before you get to write "The End."
  • Be ready. Create obstacle-free opportunities for yourself. You know how distractions can make you forget to eat even when you are hungry? That happens when you are hungry to write, too. And if you put yourself in an environment full of distractions, you'll kill your appetite for telling stories.
  • Don't satisfy your hunger. Resist the urge to tell people about your work in progress. Anything that gives you the rewards before you finish the work saps your energy as a writer.
When it comes to hunger, we are not created equal. Some people naturally need less than others. Some people are surrounded by love, friendship, and material goods. It may be easier for a rich aspiring writer to pass through the eye of a needle than to become published. But somehow, even those with every advantage manage to succeed. If they can do it, so can you. Treasure the gift of hunger.

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