Why Aren’t You Writing?


I have often heard people who want to be writers complain that they could get more writing done if they didn’t have to work at a normal job, didn’t have to finish all their school work, didn’t have so many activities that take up their time. When I talk to them I discover some interesting things. They’ve seen every episode of Friends, Law and Order, or some other TV show that has been in reruns forever. They like books, but when I ask what they’ve read recently, they name one or two books. In essence, what is sucking up their writing time and reading time is not their full-time job. It is other things that they have decided have more value.

Before we even start this conversation there’s a few things I should tell you up front. I haven’t had cable TV for over three years. I don’t miss it except during football season. I have seen only a handful of Friends episodes and never seen a single episode of Law and Order. Yes, I like police/court room shows. I just haven’t gone out of my way to watch the series. I watch very little TV at all, and when I do, I usually buy the DVDs of a series and watch it while I eat dinner or am piecing a quilt by hand. It is rare that I know what TV series are currently even being shown. The only three that I try to follow are Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and The X-Files.

Another thing that you need to know is that even though I seem to end up with teaching jobs that are some lengthy distance from my house, I still have time to write. Much of the first draft of the novel I have recently finished was written during the time I was teaching in San Antonio and driving for an hour and a half through San Antonio traffic to reach my little log cabin in Spring Branch, Texas. I got up at six a.m., left my home by 6:30 a.m., and didn’t return until six p.m., often later. I shopped the wonderful book sale at the San Antonio Library, stopped by to check out or return books at the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library on my way home, picked up groceries at the local H.E.B., and still had time to put in a couple of hours writing each night, with an additional hour spent reading before I went to bed.

I understand that people have families who have demands on their time, especially young children. I’ve known people with young children to sneak in writing at their desks during their breaks at work, or squeeze in some writing time before their family is awake in the morning. When my own children were young, I wrote after they went to sleep. I wrote when they were watching Stars Wars for the thousandth time. Although the book I wrote at that time wasn’t good, I had to learn, and the only way to learn was to keep writing, to grab those periods of time that I could manage in order to keep the pages filling up. Even though it wasn’t a great book, I learned that I could actually finish a novel and how to go beyond what my self-imposed limitations were. Once again, I didn’t watch a lot of TV at that time.

It is a matter of what your priorities are. Is it more important to watch TV with your spouse or significant other? I understand that, but ask yourself this question. Does that particular show spark conversations between you? Is it being together that you value? If you are watching Jeopardy or some other game show that follows the same pattern every single day because it just happens to be what is on, you might want to rethink its value in your life. If you are watching something that you have forgotten by the time you go to bed, you really don’t need it to see it. No one ever wrote a riveting, best-selling novel about a couple who spent all their evenings watching game shows. Spend that hour or even that hour and a half writing. Spend time with your spouse during a show you both truly enjoy.

It might be nice to think that a couple should do everything together, but the reality is that for most people writing is a solitary occupation. If you can trot along with your loved one while she chairs committee meetings and scribble out chapters on a notepad, I’m impressed. Most people need a certain amount of alone time. I finished a mystery novel that I used for my University of Oklahoma M.A. degree project after my fiancée and I broke up. My heart was too shattered to watch the same TV shows we had watched together and I wasn’t interested in going anywhere. I spent my time writing and reading. I’m not suggesting that you get rid of a loved one in order to write more, but discuss when you can arrange time for your writing projects and what sort of activities will still give the two of you quality time together.

One of the most annoying things that a writer ever hears is when someone says to him or her, “I have always wanted to write a book. I just know it would be a best-seller, but I don’t have the time.” No, you really don’t want to write a book. If you did, you would. It is that simple. It’s a matter of choice in how you spend those hours outside of your full-time job. Is your weekend spent hanging out with friends and getting drunk? If you factor in your hangover, you have lost at least twenty productive hours of writing time. I’m not saying a person shouldn’t have friends, but consider how your time is being spent in relation to what you profess you want to accomplish.

However, that statement pales in comparison to the other complaint often heard by writers. For God’s sake, don’t ever say this to anyone who is a writer, especially not a published writer. A person with those cartoon dollar signs in his or her eyes approaches the writer. The person says, “I am have this great idea for a novel, but I don’t know how to write it. Would you write it for me? I just know it will be a best-seller. We’ll split the money.” No professional writer, especially a successful one, will be the slightest bit interested in that proposal.

There’s a variation on this where the person claims he or she has lived this fascinating life and the writer (I am mentally inserting the word “victim” in here) has been selected to write about it. Oh, yes, and it will be a best-seller. Here’s a horrible, brutal thing to say, but let me just lay this out here. If your life has been best-seller worthy, you have probably made enough money to pay for a ghostwriter. Celebrities use ghostwriters to write their autobiographies. Most fiction writers do not do ghostwriting. Ghostwriters are usually writers you have never heard of. Be prepared to pay thousands of dollars upfront for the ghostwriter to write your autobiography. After all, he or she is already aware that the odds of your life story being a best-seller is unlikely. Unless you are famous, autobiographies do not tend to sell well.

Anyone who is a writer does not need your help or anyone else’s in order to find ideas to write about. Writer’s block doesn’t mean the writer doesn’t have ideas. It is about not knowing the best way to express those ideas. We don’t want to hear your ideas. We have enough of our own. At a conference Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files and The Cinder Spires series, pointed out that he would have to live to be over 100 in order to write all the books he already has in his head, waiting for the time when he can get them out and onto the page.

If you have a great idea for a book, write it. If you really consider yourself to be a writer, you won’t be able to stop yourself from writing it. You will spend your spare time filling up the pages. You will wake up in the middle of the night with plot ideas and slip out of bed to jot them down. It’s a matter of deciding if that book is significant enough for you to write it. It’s your time, and your life. Choose what is important to you.




Photo is of the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas. The photo was taken at sunset by Louis Vest. Created in 1974 by using junked Cadillacs, visitors are permitted to decorate the vehicles, thus the Cadillac Ranch is constantly changing.