I recently read a post from Mike Cane’s xBlog that re-posted an essay from 1922 titled “Why I Quit Being So Accomodating.” The essay included the following section:
“Surely, if life means anything at all, it means that each of us is entrusted with a certain irreplaceable fund of hours and weeks and years. To let anybody and everybody fritter that fund away is as if the trustee of an estate were to deposit the estate’s funds in a bank and issue check books to whoever applied.”
The tl;dr version of the article: Your time is precious and you should be selective to whom you offer it to, as you will never get this time back. Those who freely give away their time at the expense of their work do not respect their time and thus do not have their time respected by others.
There’s some generally solid, applicable advice in this column from almost a century ago, but there’s a specific aspect of this that is worth looking at for anybody who wants to call themself a writer, and what it means to make that distinction.
At the basic level, a writer is not about the external validation of their work (sold screenplays, published novels, paycheck, awards, etc.), but about the consistent effort to produce work. Do you sit down and put words together regularly? Are you working toward improving the quality of what you write? Great! That’s being a writer.
Cultivating the practice of writing requires effort and intention. Like the line from The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, “If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Writers make the time to write, they don’t just talk about it. They do the work.
And sometimes it’s frustrating. A factor that keeps people who work hard at their writing from willingly identifying as a writer is thinking that all they write is crap. There’s a quote from Brian Eno I keep up in my workspace: “The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.”
Take your time seriously. Put the words on the page, even if they suck. Keep doing it, and they’ll suck less. They might even become good. But you can’t make it better until you’ve made it, and you can’t make it until you make the time.