I love the old joke that goes “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t”.
(I also love “There are ten kinds of people in the world – those who understand binary, and those who don’t.” but that’s a whole other joke.)
I do, however, divide writers into – well, writers and wanna-be writers. Or maybe writers and sorta-kinda-thinking-about-being writers. And here’s how I divide them: writers write, and the others don’t.
Harsh? Hmmmm – maybe a little, but only if you’re one of those who says, “Yeah, I have a book in me but a) I can’t find the time b) can’t get inspired c) have a day job and inspiration only hits when I’m at work or d) any other excuse for avoiding picking up the pen and setting down your butt.
Since I got this grant, I’ve met a lot of wanna-be types. Many of them say to me, “I get the inspiration when I’m at work, or just going to bed, or I wake up in the middle of the night, and of course I can’t write then. You know how it is, you have to write when you get the inspiration.” They nod their heads and assume my agreement.
I don’t argue with them. I mean, what would be the point? They have it partly right – you do have to write when you get the inspiration, if at all humanly possible. Okay, even I have not hung up on a call-centre customer to go write, but I’ve scribbled the idea in my ever-present something-to-write-on. And I have postponed bedtime or, yes, got up at three a.m. to write, draw or whatever.
But that’s only half of it. The other half is what you do with the inspiration when it’s not around. That’s the work of writing, and that’s what differentiates a writer from a non-writer. If you can slog through a scene or an edit, if you can sit at your desk and pull on your hair and not quit even though the Muse has packed her bags and gone to Bermuda, if you can meet deadline regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood, you will get your poem/short story/novel/humongous seven-book multigenerational epic done. If you can’t, you won’t, because you’ll always be waiting around for the Muse to do her – or his – little magic thing.
Look, the Muse isn’t the bread-and-butter. The Muse isn’t even the cake. The Muse is not – and this may be hard to believe – the icing on the cake. The Muse is coloured sprinkles and silver dragees and royal icing roses. Imagine a cake made entirely of coloured sprinkles. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t stomach it.
No writer can make an entire oeuvre of coloured sprinkles, or even a whole book. A short poem, maybe. But quite a lot of writing is bread-and-butter, cake, or, if you’re really rocking and rolling, icing.
If you write only when the Muse is in the room, you will have a really, really tiny portfolio. If you can’t make some cake and some icing to hold those coloured sprinkles, they will fall apart. And there’s nothing wrong with a good slice of homemade multigrain bread with butter, even without sprinkles.
You just have to make it, even – and especially – if the Muse isn’t around, if the mood isn’t on you. If you can do that, and do it regularly and consistently, you are a writer.
If you can’t, or don’t, or won’t, you aren’t.