The Writer’s Secret Weapon

Fear is the mind killer. —Dune, Frank Herbert

We’re two weeks from wrapping up the fall semester, and my Writing for Publication class is sweating out the likelihood of getting published and getting a passing grade for my class. In the process, we’ve talked a lot about the life of being a writer.

“How do you motivate yourself to write?” I ask them a couple of weeks back. “Especially when there are no class deadlines, no teachers or parents or anyone else who cares if you write another word. My wife will still love me if I decide to never write again. If I write or don’t write matters only to me. So how do you keep going?”

Well, the short answer is: I have no choice. I’m a writer.

Let me back up. I really do have a choice. I can decide that I am no longer a writer, and put away my laptop and my outline and watch TV instead. Or I can tell others that I am working on something when in reality I have no intention of ever putting another word on paper.

Or here’s another scenario, one that is more common to some of my students. I will become a closet writer. I will write hundreds of pages of wonderful prose, which will be the next Great American Novel in my own mind, but for all intents and purposes will never be seen by another person.

The first scenario is just lazy. The second scenario is the coward’s way out.

And that leads to another question I ask my students: “Is a writer a writer if he or she never shares his or her writing?”

Let the arguments ensue.

My belief is that stories are for sharing. A story is worth nothing if it isn’t read. Even if it’s given away free, it still has more potential to do someone some good than if it is stuck in a drawer somewhere.

A writer has to write. And a writer has to share his writing. And suffer the slings and arrows of criticism that come with sharing that writing with the world.

What motivates me to write? Self-identity.

I am a writer. It is not only what I do; it’s who I am.

Take that away from me, and I lose sight of who I am.

I’m also a tenured professor. I don’t make a lot of money as an author, but I don’t plan on stopping the countless hours I spend doing it. I spent years gaining the education necessary to become a professor, but I also spent years and countless thousands of hours becoming the writer I am. I will continue to write as long as I possibly can, measuring my self worth not on what I have written but on what I am about to write.

For that is my secret weapon. I must write, because I am a writer.