When talking to people about writing, I’ve come across so many myths and misunderstandings. Some people genuinely believe writing is easy, getting published is just a matter of sending your manuscript into the ether (the same way things go ‘viral’) and that once you’re published, you just sit back and watch the royalty cheques – which represent 99.9% of the purchase price – fly in through the door.
I’ve found myself trying to explain the writing journey, the long nights when you’re pulling the inspiration from your head like a magician’s handkerchief or the obsessing about plot points or characters. I’ve realised it’s actually quite a foreign concept to most people. So I’ve come up with a few different analogies to help explain what writers do.
The first one is how being a writer is like being a cowboy/cowgirl:
- It’s a romanticized job and it’s lonely out there on the plains.
Picture this: you’re on horseback on the wide open plains. The cattle are in front of you, the sun above; an endless unencumbered horizon stretching around you. Depending on your generation, you’re either hearing a John Wayne soundtrack, the theme from the Marlboro ad or Billy Crystal’s cackle from City Slickers.
Idyllic, isn’t it? I’ve heard countless people get to the end of a Western and then sigh about the prospect of a life on the plains. They ignore the hard work, breathing dust 24/7, the long days in the sun and the panicked rides after loose cattle.
Writing is no different. Everyone wants to do it. Everyone’s got a book in them. Apparently.
Being a writer is romanticized to the point where some people feel it’s easy but that ignores the long process of writing, the even longer process of editing and the terrifyingly long – and seemingly endless – process of getting published.
When I’m writing, I withdraw from the world into the world I’ve created. I need to; if I’m to effectively tell the story, I need to be there. So it’s lonely sometimes, on that hypothetical horse, with your thoughts.
2. If the horse throws you off, you have no option but to get back on again.
If you’re a cowboy, in the middle of nowhere, and the horse bucks you off, there is no one there to pick you up. You are faced with a choice: do you get back on, or simply sit there and wonder if someone will pick you up? Some choice. You dust yourself off, head after your steed and climb back on. Then you resume where you left off.
When you’re a writer, you face the same choice. Being thrown off course, off your game, off a vein of inspiration; it doesn’t matter. If you throw the notebook or laptop into the lake, your story sinks with it. There is no on there to pick it up for you.
When you receive critiques or comments, there can be a nagging temptation to sit there until someone picks you up, hopefully by noticing you’re a bit flat and you need a bit of encouragement. While that sometimes can happen – and it’s really appreciated when it does – you need to dust yourself off and climb back into the saddle.
3. Sometimes the view is spectacular, sometimes it’s the back of someone else’s horse.
When you’re leading the herd, the view up front is spectacular. Wide open plains, sunsets over the prairie – it’s all good.
When the inspiration is flowing, writing can be a magical thing. The words fly, the characters develop traits never seen before on the page, plot twists reveal themselves in coy splendour.
I’ve had those days, where I’ve passed my hoped-for daily word count in the first hour. It’s as close to flying as human being can get, and the view is spectacular.
But sometimes the days as a cowboy/cowgirl are tougher. You aren’t leading the pack; you’re trudging your way through, step after frustrating step, and the view in front of you in the back of someone else’s horse. It’s a grind and the landscape ain’t pretty.
For a writer, these are the days when even the first paragraph’s birth is difficult and each half-page is greeted with a triumphant sigh.
Writing is a combination of those days.
So what do you think? There are three ways in which being a writer is like being a cowboy or cowgirl. Are there any others I’ve missed?