I’m finishing a book tomorrow, and it puts me in mind of an essay (link) Stephen Hunter wrote for The Daily Beast (link) a year or so ago. It inspired a goodly amount of bitterness among what I’ll charitably call the “writing community,” as Hunter pulled no punches about what it takes to succeed in this business. It hurts for some people to hear, but writing is not about touchy-feely things, but about production. If you want to make it, writer, you need to write. Otherwise you will not get to the point where you’re doing this professionally.
And let’s be clear: this is not a comment on the skills of any particular writer, not even you. But if you’re complaining about not having the time or the inspiration or whatever it takes to complete salable fiction, the problem isn’t people like Stephen Hunter. He’s figured out what it takes, and he’s doing it. It’s not glamorous, but it’s what used to be called a work ethic.
As Hunter himself says in the essay: “[T]he most difficult test of the author isn’t his mastery of time or dialogue, his gift for action or character, his ability to suggest verisimilitude in a few strokes, but his ability to get back into the book each day.”
I have said time and again over the past eight years, as my career has slowly crept upward with critical and commercial recognition, that I am no great shakes as an author. I get the work done. That’s all. Other writers are more brilliant, more charismatic, and have great tweets. All I do is grind it out, day after day, and in the end I have something to sell while they don’t.
Yes, it sounds cynical. People think about writers in this exotic way, as if they spend their hours daydreaming, and then capturing those dreams on a page for the delectation of readers. It really, really isn’t that way. Maybe some folks might manage to get a book or two out in their lifetimes after lounging in their salons, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the Muse, but most will fail because it’s about work, work and more work. And that work never ends.