Wednesday, November 30, 2011

14 WOW Wednesday: Leah Cypess on The Only Way to Write

For those of you who love fantasy, today's WOW Wednesday guest will not be unfamiliar. Her two beautiful books would leave a void if she hadn't written them exactly the way she did write them. And that means you need to read this post. Read it, and then go out and write the books that only you can write, in the way that only you can write them. Find Leah on her web site or on Twitter, and go read these books if you haven't done so already!

The Only Way To Write

by Leah Cypess

“The only way to write is well and how you do it is your own damn business.” — A.J. Liebling

When I was fourteen years old, my father got a high-speed internet connection at his office, and I was able to go online for the first time. The very first thing I did was seek out the writers’ communities on AOL and Compuserve. (Note: If you remember Compuserve, you are old. Like me.) Until then, I was the only serious writer I knew, and it was thrilling to find a community of people who were also interested in writing as a profession. We could discuss it! For hours! On the computer!

On AOL, I came across a thread about writing habits. One person, who was apparently a Person of Importance in a national writing group, said that if you are serious about writing, you have to treat it like a job: Sit down and write from 9:00 to 5:00. Accountants don’t get to do their work just when they are “in the mood,” so why should writers?

Now, I recognize that this is good advice for a lot of people, but it has never worked for me. First of all, unless I am in the throes of serious inspiration, I can never write (in the first-drafting sense) for more than an hour or two at a time without burning out. Second of all, if I sit down and force myself to write when I have nothing I really want to write about, I write complete crap.

So I wrote something like that in the thread, adding that I tended to write when I was in the mood, with no consistent pattern, and I still managed to get a lot done.

The original poster responded that if that was my attitude, I would never make it as a professional writer.

I responded that this wasn’t true for everybody, different people had different working habits, and if that was what I thought I had to do to be a writer, I might actually prefer to be an accountant.

Then I had go get off the internet, and didn’t get to check the thread until the next day. At which point I found that the thread had gotten a lot longer – and consisted entirely of support for the original poster and criticism of me. One post said something along the lines of, “Person of Importance, I’m sure that in your Position of Importance you have to deal a lot with this kind of immature attitude, and I’m sorry for you. It was nice of you to even bother responding to her.” There was not a single post suggesting that what I’d said had any validity whatsoever.

So, I quickly learned my first rule about the internet: people tend to let their obnoxiousness out. (Years later, I realized that many of the people on that thread were probably sucking up to the Person of Importance; I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.) That was twenty years ago, but to this day I still wish I had saved the identity and email of said Person of Importance, so I could forward his email to him with, “Remember how you said I’d never be a professional writer? Well, check THESE books out. And by the way, I didn’t write them from 9 to 5.”

I mean, not that I really would. Because it was years ago and I’m above all that. Probably.

The writing world, and the internet portion of it especially, is full of great advice for writers: on how to write, how (and whether) to seek publication, etc. And a lot of it is really, really good advice. But the important thing to remember is that it is all advice that worked for the person giving it.

Writing is, by its very nature, one of the most individualistic endeavors there is, and that’s a large part of the reason why I love it. There are many more important things that people are doing, but few things are less replaceable: if you don’t write that book or story or essay, it will never be written. Nobody else could ever write exactly the same thing that you will write. And that’s why, without closing yourself off to the possibility of good advice, you have to do it in the way that works for you. Whether you outline or wing it, devote a certain number of hours to writing per day or write sporadically as the muse hits you, revise seven million times or just once, make elaborate character charts or keep it all in your head… don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong just because they do it differently. Or even because 99% of the writers in the world are doing it differently. It’s the outcome that matters, not how you get there.



  1. Great post. I've learned this along the way too. I've got to do what suits me. I find writing a little bit everyday works for me, but I don't think I could go 9 to 5 either because after a few hours I wouldn't be producing quality writing anymore.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! It feels like it was meant just for me. I've struggled with feeling like I'm doing everything "wrong" because I don't outline, or make charts, etc. and it seems many people do. When I finally realized it was okay to work in my own way, a huge burden fell away and I'm thankful for reminders like yours!

  3. This is SO true. It can be easy to feel like a failure if you're not doing everything you're "supposed to be" doing, but ultimately you need to figure out what kind of writer you are. Easier said than done, but so important!

  4. Yes! It drives me crazy when trusted people say something like "the only way to write is...." Or "you're not a writer unless you..." The worst part is there are probably a lot of newer writers who think it IS the only way and end up quitting because it doesn't work for them.

    The only way to write is the way that works for you.

  5. I LOVE this!!! When I first started blogging, I got freaked out by all the do's and don'ts and tried to follow each one. But there are conflicting do's and don'ts, and I soon learned I had to take what advice works for me, and leave behind what doesn't.

    Leah, thanks so much for the great post and for writing great books!

  6. I've interviewed several children's writers, and so far, I haven't found one that writes 9 to 5. Most of them write for a few hours and then take care of other tasks while their creative brain recharges.

    Personally, 9 to 5 would never work for me. My life is extremely fragmented, and my writing even more so. Also, my best success comes when I allow myself time to daydream about each scene and work it out in my mind before I write it down. Although I do better when I write daily, that doesn't happen consistently except during Nanowrimo.

    (You may find it interesting to note that I have had an accountant (CPA) tell me that for a writer to be successful, he or she has to write about 12+ hours a day. When I told her that books I had read about about writing don't support that idea, she said the authors of those books were lying. Lol.)

  7. Great post! I've only recently gotten comfortable doing things my own way, without worrying about how other writers write. All that matters is the end result, not how many hours per day you put into it.

  8. Great story. It's fortunate that people at the writer's forum I post at rarely act that way. In fact, more than a few people hate it when writing advice says "always do this" and "never do that".

    I only heard of one writer (Jim Butcher, which a friend of my father claims he knows) who writes eight hours a day. A writer doesn't have to write more than a couple of hours a day (or one hour, or thirty minutes, or...) to make good progress. As long as you're making some progress, you're on the right track.

    Now, time to add this article to my Friday Round-up.

  9. Your story doesn't surprise me, in that I've seen a lot of sucking up going on in various places on the internet over the years. That said, you're totally amazing and perfect! ;)
    JK--that is a great story and thanks for sharing it. I love to hear about other people's writing adventures.

  10. Terrific post. You couldn't be more right about this. Every writer has to find his or her own path and way to get the job done. I read a post the other day that was so full of "if you don't do it this way, you will never be a writer" pomposity, it made me want to scream. It's very refreshing to read your post. Thanks.

  11. Yeah, Leah!! AWESOME post and awesome writer.

  12. Wow, I'm almost kinda surprised we didn't meet back then. I hung around the AOL writing boards as a teen too. And I would have been on your side back then cause I definitely only wrote when I felt like it at the time, haha... Now I'm a little more disciplined, but I think I still mostly feel like it, it's just that I've gotten better at solving whatever problem is making me NOT feel like it. But sometimes you just need a break instead! And yes...the internet can definitely be a sea of know-it-alls.

  13. Great post! Love it. As a mother of three, I have to write whenever, wherever I can. I wrote part of my first book in a laundromat, in a parking lot, sitting in bleachers, ... Some of it was written on a napkin at a restaurant because I had no paper. LOL Whatever works for you! Like you said so well, it's the end result that counts. I totally agree.

  14. This is great! There are as many writing schedules and methods as there are writers, I think. We often can worry too much about the "correct" way of doing things. Glad you did it your way!


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