Learning to Become a Writer Can Be a Very Rocky Road!

Do we modern civilized westerners really know what it is to travel along a rocky road?

I have just finished reading a book called The Friar of Carcassonne. It is a terrible tale of religious persecution and the horrors of the Catholic Church Inquisition in 13th century Languedoc, a region of southern France, and the famed land of the Cathars.

One very common feature of medieval life was that if you wanted to get from Rome to Paris or Paris to Carcassonne, your choices of transport were few. Horse and cart, riding a horse or donkey, or going by Shanks’s pony–in other words, foot-slogging weariness for hundreds of miles. And the highways and byways were either hard, rocky, dusty roads in summer or icy, frozen lanes and quagmires in winter. Both descriptions could be understood to be a rocky road.

Can I seriously liken my journey in becoming a writer to a rocky road experience? Honestly, I don’t think I can. Sitting in a comfortable study, shelves full of reference books to consult with and now in these, our marvelous times, having a window onto everything through the screen of my PC. A good wife to provide cups of coffee and hand-made sandwiches at my request, a safe environment outside should I want a breather, and even a tender mattress to lie upon should I get overworked and need a nap.

What can I say on this subject?

My second thought took me back to a summer morning twenty-five years ago. Slipping out of the English Lakes holiday cottage at five a.m., I was bound for Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. I had planned the trip many months before, pored over the ordnance survey maps to find the best way up to the summit while avoiding any obvious hazards and dangers en-route. I had planned it well. Made a list of all the equipment I needed, and not just needed for the climb, but also in case of emergency, accident, or injury. I wrote a route map and planned to give a copy to a responsible person who knew where I was going and what time I was expected to return and who also would know what to do in the unlikely event I didn’t come back at the appointed time.

The night before my intrepid adventure, I checked my equipment against the list. I made doubly sure that everything was in good order especially my handy fell walkers compass. Triple checked that I had enough food and drink. Had I packed a whistle to raise the alarm and a camera to record the good bits and a pair of binoculars to see what was up ahead?

It was a great day out. All was well. I got to the summit late morning, and there was no one else about. Most importantly, I got back safely and on time, so thankfully the mountain rescue folks weren’t needed.

For sake of argument, disregard the comfortable study and the peripheral luxuries that often accompany the writer’s life. Consider the following circumstances in comparison. If a writer starts out his or her journey in a lackadaisical fashion, then only failure can be the result. If I had started out on the climb up Scafell Pike without proper planning or management or the right equipment then perhaps I might not have returned. I might have encountered many pitfalls on the way for which I had made no contingency plans and thus suffered the consequences.

To avoid the rocky road, the apprentice writer must plan ahead carefully.

A daily timetable is a very good idea. Work out which part of the day is the most creative and productive for you. Don’t fall for the ‘you must get up at dawn to be a serious writer’ jab. If you are a nocturnal creature, write at night. But remember most bad novels were written just after a good lunch.

If you must, put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, so you can concentrate while you are being productive.

Make sure your ‘climbing’ materials are all in good working condition and you have all of the necessities.

Here’s a last tip. A trio of guys, Dibell, Scott Card, & Turco, wrote a book called How to Write a Million and it has helped me a lot over my years as a writer. Check it out!

How have you overcome ‘rocky road’ experiences as a writer? In life?

12 Replies to “Learning to Become a Writer Can Be a Very Rocky Road!”

  1. I only read most of your article. Writers are not all alike. Many get into it just for the money. There are journalists and people who wrote a story on a fluke and then went ‘with the flow’ into a career. There are people who decided to become professional writers and were successful within a few years and in some cases also only for a short time. There are also ‘people like me’ who got into it as a journal writer and hobby until during my early 20s I wrote an entire novel and afterwards started to think I should probably try to ‘go pro’ with it. It is over 20 years later and at this point it has only turned into a paying hobby with some additional amateur volunteer work. As all of my efforts to establish my alternative day job career have not led to much – or so it seems today [that may not be the core truth] that makes it so that what others would refer to as a paying hobby on the side is “my micro career”. Has it been a rocky road? Uh, I think that the creative work is an expression of my true identity as a creative individual but that making it so that I can be financially supported and not be seduced or forced into swapping out my values for pay…that part has been rocky, a lot of the feeling of difficulty is caused by my personal shortcomings and learning style. It’s also thanks to how I am that I have been able to get anywhere with it at all.

  2. I’m a people person who likes to live in the now. That makes it hard to finish projects. I agree that making a daily schedule and sticking to it is the way to go. And “my people” respect it.

  3. You’ve got me thinking about my own road into my writing life. Part of me still doesn’t name it a ‘career,’ since it has never been a financial support for me, and that has always played into my definition of career. My writing life has, however, brought me much happiness and wonderful experiences, and while I didn’t ‘plan’ for those particular things, I did have the goal to write and to learn to do it to the best of my ability that I might be able to share it with others. Rocky? Not particularly. Demanding? Only in that my goal keeps me coming back for more, even when I have a hundred other responsibilities to meet in my life. My journey is taking decades, so maybe I can relate a little to your medieval travelers, after all – though I have the destination in mind, and I knew the basic requirements of what it would take to get there, I find unexpected obstacles and detours along the way which force me to continually adjust course and master new skills.

    1. I hope you realize that if your writing is a hobby you cannot get the same tax benefits as if it is a career. If you are seriously pursuing publication and document it, do NOT call it a hobby.

  4. Viewing the peak above is seductive. We tend to think there’s a straight shot, right up the side of the mountain, directly to the top. But the path is usually winding, derailed by boulders, brush, degree of incline, and other obstacles. These come in spite of all our tenacity and preparation. For me, this is the difficult part.

    We have lives. The obstacles are often more important than the peak. Do we neglect our family at times of need, just because we happen to be inspired at that moment? Or do we carry that thought around in our heads for however long it takes, trusting God to preserve the words until we can get to our computers, jotting small notes that we hope we can decipher later? Do we adjust our schedules to care for the people God puts in our path? Do we answer the phone when we know the person on the other end is in a crisis, even if we lose something in the process?

    Keeping our eyes on the peak and relying on the Savior’s timing, comfort, energy, ability, discernment, and leading guide us up the serpentine trail. For me, this is the biggest challenge. My tendency is to want to be sucked in by the inspiration, to neglect everything and everybody else, and to live a very unbalanced life.

    However, I also want to be like Jesus, aware of exactly what it is God wants me to be doing at that moment and carrying it out in total dependence on him. It’s a moment by moment struggle.

  5. I loved your analogy, Fred!

    I had a similar hiking experience last week – my husband and I took a hike up a canyon near Yellowstone National Park. We had a wonderful experience, but only because we were prepared with hiking boots, compass, plenty of water and food, and a pretty good idea of where the trail was leading us. Because of that preparation we were able to satisfy our “what’s around the next corner” cravings to our hearts’ content.

    On the way down the trail we met a young mother and her 5-year-old son. They had heard there was a waterfall somewhere ahead and had set out to find it. No water, only flimsy sandals on their feet, no idea of the terrain or if there really was a waterfall (there was – another mile or so up the trail). Needless to say, they packed it in. They were sunburned, footsore and beat after only 1/4 mile, and worst of all, never got their goal.

    I approach writing the same way – a daily schedule with time planned for research and rabbit trails, a cooperative family, and my own place to write (okay, it’s a corner of the family room, but I write in the morning and the family knows it’s my room until noon).

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