Nike says “Just do it.”
James the brother of Jesus wrote, “Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all?” (emphasis mine)
Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
In The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo: “I told you I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.”
What’s my point here? My point is that after you’ve learned, studied, believed, been guided, and prepared, it all still comes to nothing if you don’t do something.
While this applies to anything in life, I’m applying it specifically to writing here, since this is supposed to be a writing blog. If you want to be a writer, then you have to write something.
Preparation and training is by all means important. You can—and to one degree or another, probably should—read books and blogs about how to write well. You can plot out an outline for a book, you can do research, you can pore over a baby names website to find the perfect names for your characters. You can put together a playlist of inspiring songs, you can read interviews with all of your favorite authors.
But to be a writer, you actually have to write something.
Side note—I’m not talking about being a published author here (since I’m not one yet). I’m talking about being a writer (I am one of those, because I write).
Sit down and begin the story. Compose a scene, or a bit of dialogue, or the first part of a chapter of your non-fiction book. Your book (or poem or essay or song) will not write itself. And no amount of preparation will get it written, either.
I have been guilty of this more than a few times in the past, of confusing “preparation” with “doing.” I’m a plotter and proud of it, as opposed to a pantser—I painstakingly plot, outline, and make notes about every detail of the plot before I start to tell the story. (A pantser tends to be a bit more of a free spirit-type, and usually will sit down to write before having any idea what they’re going to write about). Neither method is better than the other one, but I think that plotters can fall prey more easily to the deception that “plotting” is the same as “writing.”
Now I am not advocating a lack of preparation. If you don’t have an excellent command of the English language (or whatever language you’re planning to write in), it might help you to take a class or study some grammar and writing books. If your story involves a place, time period, or other subject that you’re not already an expert in, then by all means do some research.
However, I have often gotten so involved in the plotting and research areas that days or weeks will go by without me actually writing anything. Yes, I’m doing important work for my book. But after six days of plotting, brainstorming, developing character backstories, studying maps, and doing other research, I finally take a good look at my manuscript, and discover it’s still blank.
To paraphrase Morpheus’ instructions, you have to walk through the door. Walk is an action, and it’s something that each person must do for themselves. Your English professor can teach you the elements of a good story, but she can’t write the story that’s in your head. Your favorite blogger can give you dialogue tips and point you to sites you can use for research, but he can’t compose your book for you. When Morpheus walked through the Oracle’s door for the first time, he walked through it for himself alone—and now it was Neo’s turn.
And in the world of being a writer, we have to keep walking through the door again and again. Research, study, read, outline…and then go write something. Then it’s back to more researching, reading, and plotting…and then go write something again.
Neo had to step through the Oracle’s door only once–but then he spends the rest of the movie acting on what he learned. It’s a continual process. So is writing. Consistency in writing can be surprisingly hard (and that, I think, is the subject of another blog post). Finding the perfect balance of preparation and action can be challenging, too, and it’s different for every person. But it’s necessary for everyone.
So go read, study, and prepare. And then go write something!