Katie Lewis

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The TED Talk for writers who can't afford conferences

By a writer who really loves Netflix

When you leave the conventional working life, you do so out of passion for your creative work, dismay by co-workers' morale and with a pish posh at past supervisors' mandates about the hours you work.

"The thing is, I'm my own person!" you slur to friends, family, the dog and anyone/anything that will listen, your mouth searching for the sweating drink's straw. "It's time for me to run my life." (By the way: They aren't rolling their eyes at your working life; they're rolling their eyes at you. Stop saying and start doing, for Pete's sake. (Poor Pete, always being dragged into our exasperation.))

So then. Why aren't you running your writing life? You're spending at least an hour a day trolling that writing group you joined on Facebook, cheering on others' wins and supporting those who struggle with motivation. The latter, dollface, is you.

You're lazy, and it isn't a good look.

The amount of complaining you do about how hard it is to be properly compensated and the impossibility, you moan, of one day having a book published.

"The problem is people are either reading differently or not reading at all."


"Only the celebrities are getting the big book deals."


"It's really hard for a woman to be a writer in this world." (Ed. note: Um, hi.)


"I'm living a life of creative writing, for my soul, and publishing isn't the route I want to take."

Well, aren't you the little martyr.

What's it going to be today, dearheart? What's the refrain you'll tumble over in your head and aloud to your cat while peeling split ends with the Blinking Cursor of Doom staring you down until cocktail hour?

Change is scary; let's give ourselves that. But what's even more frightening, what has us flipping on the lights at 3 a.m. when that noise, that unrecognized noise quakes again downstairs, is stagnation.

You aren't a writer if you aren't writing. That's literally (not figuratively; you did study English and Creative Writing enough to know this distinction; also that between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster) the only truth that matters right now. The reason it's what matters is because you cannot keep meeting friends for "drinks" and only ordering free water to hear them complain about their jobs and yourself proclaim you're a writer. It just won't do, you liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

You've gotten off track, I'm making you feel guilty about it, so now let's make up, shall we?

Here's your checklist. Start now:

  1. Go to the library. Look for Tim O'Brien, Joan Didion, Ann Patchett, Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Ephron, Donna Tartt, Karen Russell, Colum McCann, Annie Proulx, David Sedaris, Stephen Millhauser and anyone else who reminds you what good writing looks like. (I've linked to some of my favorite works by these writers at the end of this post, if you want a starting point.) Stop using your sex, gender, age, financial situation, kids, partner, outside responsibilities or anything but your own laziness as an excuse.
  2. Read them. Read everyone. Read everything -- billboards, the backs of cereal boxes, bathroom graffiti, George Foreman Grill instructions. Figure out how sentences work. Read out loud. A pearl from Dani Shapiro in her book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life:

    "Fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you. It will remind you that you are a part of a vast symphony of writers, that you are not alone in your quest to lay down words, each one bumping against the next until something new is revealed. It will exhort you to do better. To not settle for just good enough. Reading great work is exhilarating. It shows us what's possible. When I start the morning with any one of the dozens of books in rotation on my office floor, my day is made instantly better, brighter. I never regret having done it. Think about it: have you ever spent an hour reading a good book, and then had that sinking, queasy feeling of having wasted time?"
  3. Learn which writers work for you and which don't. Read more of the writers whose work doesn't attract you, and figure out why. You cannot be a good writer if you aren't a good reader. That's like wanting to be ... well, hell, any profession without practicing. A racecar driver without ever sitting in the driver's seat. A woodworker without chopping down a tree. A singer who never holds a note. You're smart; you get it.
  4. Write every day. Every, single day. Forget the word "weekend." Your birthday gift to yourself is your writing. There's no out for this; stop searching for the loophole. This doesn't mean work yourself to the bone, of course: Life is meant to be an adventure, and you have to experience to have observations and lessons to draw from. Don't try to write for 15 hours a day; even Stephen King doesn't do that, so stop it; you aren't impressing yourself. But yes, every day: You and the page. Don't get out of practice. A few weeks off, and you'll have forgotten all about comma splices and gerunds.
  5. Create a space in your home that's only for your writing. It's a place for your laptop or pad of paper, and no one else uses that area for anything else. In other words, it isn't your kitchen counter or bed. Your kids aren't allowed to color there. Maybe it's in your garage. Wherever you create it, it's your writing space, and you habitually go there every day.
  6. Set a daily writing goal. Experiment! You might find you respond best by setting a daily word count goal (King aims for 2,000 words/day), a page count or getting through a scene. Find what specifically works for you. You're unique, pretty cool and I like what you've done with your hair.
  7. Play an active role in the creative community, and you'll reap the rewards. It's the ol' Golden Rule, but it also feels so gosh-darn good. It's reaffirming that this is where you belong and what you're meant to be doing. Join Twitter chats, attend Creative Morning events, reach out to fellow creators and makers who've impressed you -- Take part in free events that build your confidence and inspire your work. Just don't replace your work with these actions.

What I'm trying to say, my broken-down friend, is it's just laziness. That's all it is. And you can conquer laziness. You've done much harder: You went back to work after your dad died. You had a miscarriage. You dealt with bullies throughout school. You lost your house in a fire. You and your brother haven't spoken in years, and neither side is giving in. You were harmed by someone you trusted. You lost your money. You got fired from a job. You made a big mistake. You cheated. You lied. You stole.

It's only laziness, a question of energy. You know the phrase "sheer laziness?" Write a letter to laziness -- à la Elizabeth Gilbert -- and tell it, "Laziness, I see right through you. Straight through. Your bra's showing, and it's last year's style. There's no substance to you."

Then sit down, and fucking write.

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