There’s warnings on cigarettes. Warnings on alcohol. Even warnings on bags of nuts (they normally say WARNING: MAY CONTAIN NUTS), but nobody warns about the dangers associated with writing. The moment you pick up that pen to write your first ever story, you’re at the crossroads with the devil, and some warning angel should be there to tell you what you’re about to get yourself into. I imagine that angel would be in the form of Joe Friday from Dragnet…and he’d say something like this:
“Put the pen down a moment, son. You need to think about what you’re about to do…because once you start there’s no going back. “Writing isn’t a hobby, it’s a life. Don’t start this caper if you’re dreaming of riches. Sure, some writers make it big, but if you want to be a millionaire you better play the lottery because at least that racket pays the jackpot twice a week. And it’s quicker to buy a ticket too. You’re gonna spend hours, weeks, months…maybe even years buying yours. It won’t seem like that when you start out though…
“Oh it’ll be quite a thrill at the beginning when you find yourself two-thousand words into a story with no idea how it ends, that is of course until you realise the only way it can end is for it to be all a dream. You’ll write yourself into all sorts of trouble. You’ll write stories that don’t work, that can’t work, broken stories, bad stories, stories that have no point and stories that don’t have an end. But you’ll learn, and eventually you’ll start turning out good ones. Ones without clichés. Ones with snappy dialogue and characters as real and as close to you as your own family. Once you start you’ll walk the writing beat every hour you’ve got, and when you’re asleep you might dream about it too.
“It doesn’t matter how many years you walk that writing beat, nobody will think you’re any better than a rookie until you’re published, properly. There’s no fast-track to the top. Some people get lucky, others don’t, and some die before they knew how lucky they could’ve been. You’ll spend every day wanting to get better, and you’ll put the hours in trying to do so. You’ll write, you’ll read, and if you keep your senses open, you’ll learn. You’ll hate some of what you’ve written, until you accidentally delete the file, then you’ll believe what you lost was the best stuff written since Shakespeare.
“You’ll call yourself a writer, but words will come harder to you than most. And you’ll commit grammatical felonies by the lorry load, you’ll split infinitives and start sentences with conjunctions. At first you won’t be able to see an adverb for the trees, but with a bit of training you’ll be shooting down those crooks at fifty paces. You may even get trigger happy with them and kill them all off. And other writers will understand why you did it, just like they’ll understand when you’ll put most of them back in. “There’ll be writers’ block and there’ll be days when your pens don’t have enough ink to keep up but if your heart is big enough, your courage strong enough, and your sense of self not completely warped, you’ll get to write the words ‘THE END’ and feel damned proud. You’ll hold your head up high but won’t hold it up too long, because you’ll feel the weight of your next story on you, and before you know it, you’ll be walking your patch again…picking up the pieces once more, and by God, you’ll love it.”
[If the above doesn’t make sense, try this video for context. Jack Webb giving a great speech about what it means to be a cop.]