Writing

by Scott Raab on December 28, 2011

new apple keyboardI get asked for advice by young writers and never know what to offer beyond a few things that sound absurdly simple. I don’t want to be discouraging. I don’t want to be overly encouraging, either. Print may or may not be dying, but writing isn’t. People still want to become writers, hope to make a career of it, think of it as something special — all that jazz.

I think the fundamental force behind writing is passion. The writers I know are insane. They don’t know how NOT to write about stuff. It’s like pro athletes often say about their sport: They’d play for free. Writers love to write — and not because it’s easy. Getting it right isn’t easy at all, and that challenge is a big part of why writers love to write. It’s a high, working on your game, a way of being in the world that feels absolutely honest and true.

Anyone, especially in his or her twenties, saying ‘I have no time to write’ because of a job or anything else is full of crap. Writers write. If you can’t find time to write, don’t worry about becoming a writer. You’re not a writer. You’ll never be a writer. Find something else that lights you up.

Same with reading. Anybody who has no time to read isn’t a writer. All the work necessary to learn how to write boils down to reading and writing. This is not subtle or nuanced advice, obviously. I stress it here because of how often I talk to people who seem to think there’s a shortcut. I know no shortcuts. Luck counts, yes. Connections, too. But luck and connections won’t help if you’re not a good enough writer to take advantage of them.

The other factor is endurance. Endurance is a talent. Without endurance, I don’t think other talents mean much, not in a profession as uncertain as writing. Almost without exception, the chances to earn money and recognition come slow. If they do come quick, endurance is still required to build a career. The few writers I know who found relatively early success and kept it going weren’t just good writers; they worked even harder after making their bones.

Keep in mind, though, that this is just one guy’s way of thinking. I was selling columns to a weekly paper in Philadelphia for $40 a pop the year I turned 40. The best writer I know in Cleveland is nearly 60 and makes his living checking orders at a beverage warehouse. One of the best young writers I know in New York City works for a caterer full time. Maybe you can find someone else out there who can offer you some shortcut. Not me.

  • Anonymous

    John Hyduk.

    • http://twitter.com/J_Smitty_ Jordan Smith

      The esquire article he wrote was a real eye opener. Great work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23323709 Mike Altier

    True and to the point. Love the way you boil it down to the elements Scott. Thank you.

  • http://www.wischlist.com Dave Wischnowsky

    Scott, a friend of mine shared this with me today and it’s so ironic — and kind of creepy — that it’s exactly along the lines of a discussion I was having with my girlfriend just last night. As a former Chicago Tribune Metro reporter and a current CBSChicago.com sports blogger (who pays the bills as an ad copywriter these days, which is sort of writing, but you know, not really), you described how the way I’m wired better than any previous description I’ve ever read. Nice to know us writers aren’t alone out there. :)

    Thanks again for the great read and astute insight.

  • Anonymous

    Scott, thanks for your thoughts. Appreciated seeing you link this the day after I tweeted @ you (about your book and my “10 Reasons I (Still) Hate LeBron” post), but not so vain to believe I had anything to do with it.

    This trip home for the holidays (I’m in my late 20s) has been an almost spiritual journey of reflection and catharsis, and receiving your book on Christmas day… well it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. I tore through it in 3 days on car rides and over Great Lakes Christmas Ale, loving every last damn word.

    I am learning to draw, largely inspired by my love for comics, but most specifically my love for Pekar, who you eulogize in your book quite affectionately. I today started a memoir on this trip (which borrows heavily from the style of your book, not gonna lie, but will clearly cover far less time and far “smaller” issues), which I hope to later convert into a graphic novel. I hope I can make it that far.

    Two brief questions, if you have any time and if you respond to blog comments: 1. How do you find the energy to finish? Followthrough has always been more difficult for me than inspiration. 2. How do you find the stones to be so brutally honest? Half of what makes what I want to write about interesting includes things that may horrify or offend those close to me in my life.

    Thanks, man. Have a great new year.

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