When I was working on a novel many years ago, I wrote at least five days a week. At that time, I also had an almost full-time job, which required me to be onsite at 8am. My typical routine was to rise at 3am and write until leaving for work. How wonderfully satisfying to have my “real work” done for the day by the time I left for work in the morning! Everything else in my day was gravy.
I have also written late into the night and fallen asleep at the keyboard. I have struggled to find the right word, the right phrase, the right path of the story as it unfolded under my fingertips. In short, even when I wasn’t published anywhere, I was still a writer.
Because I write.
Sometimes what shows up on the page is awful, embarrassing, or awfully embarrassing. Sometimes what comes out is beautiful. But the discipline of sitting down in front of the keyboard more days of the week than not is what makes me a writer. And the more that I show up, the better the chances get that I will become a better writer.
When I have talked to others about writing, it amazes me how often the person I’m talking to will say, “Hey! I’m a writer too!”
“How great!” I respond. “What are you working on?”
“Well, nothing. It’s in my head. But I have lots of great stories to tell!”
Here’s the thing: good stories, good ideas, and good intentions don’t make someone a good writer — or even a writer. If there are no words being put down, then it makes someone a dreamer.
And there’s not one thing wrong with dreaming. It’s the beginning place, where new things are born. It’s the dark void where creativity lives.
When dreaming, we visualize, we create a picture mentally, maybe we even construct a vision board if we’re into that. With dreaming, we play in the wide open field of possibilities. We go into our mom’s closet and we slide our tiny feet into her red, high-heeled shoes and try to stand up in them. We are engulfed in a world of discovery and imagination. With dreaming, we are essentially untethered and free to take flight along any passing breeze.
However, if we mistake dreaming for the end result, in any field of endeavor, in any aspect of life and living, we have run aground in shallow water and need to take a step back, for these are two very different animals.
Dreaming is essentially a process oriented task. It can go on forever and ever with no end in sight and nothing to show for it.
When it comes to the thing itself, to real world outcomes, there is commitment. There is often struggle and sacrifice, and an overriding dedication to a high vision one is challenged to materialize on the page, or in life. When it comes to real world outcomes, the end result matters.
How many more words are on the page today because I sat down to write? What new direction, course of action, character, or character development did I discover today because I sat down to write?
Imagination is a wonderful thing. Great stories are wonderful too. But mistaking that for actual words on the page?
No. That is not being a writer. That is being a dreamer.