So You Want to Be a Writer? Become a Sadist.


For as long as you can remember, you’ve been telling your parents, your girlfriend, and your old high school friends that you want to be a writer. On your best days, you take that “want to be” part out and just say that you ARE a writer. Yet, every day it seems, you find yourself wasting time, caught as you are by bad habits, trapped by modern life and its attention grabbers, tripped up by your own excuses and laziness. Sorry if I’m making you feel bad, but not really, because I know how you think. You’re lazy. You have bad habits. You get sidetracked. You make excuses. I know how you think because I think that way, too. Because I’m a self-proclaimed writer who hardly ever brings himself to write.

Or at least I used to. Now I do it all the time. I’m not saying that as smugly as you’re hearing it in your head, honest. I’m not being a jerk here; I really do have something important to tell you. I write every day now, and I do it because I’ve become something that I never thought I’d be. I’ve become a sadist.

I’m sure a pervert like you has read the dictionary definition of sadism. But if for some reason I’ve pegged you wrong, it’s “…the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others; (in general use) deliberate cruelty.” Take out the sexual bits—those belong to an article for a later time. (Though if that’s the kind of stuff you write, or you want to write, more power to you.) Just keep in mind that sadism is all about deriving pleasure from the infliction of pain, suffering, and humiliation. Now apply that to yourself. You’re the person on whom you’re inflicting deliberate cruelty. Day in and day out, that is what it means to be a writer.

Sounds great! But how do you do it?

I’m glad you asked. I have a handy three-point plan for you.

First, jump on your task at a specific time every day, even though that might mean deleting other things from your schedule. Make your writing time your priority. I’ve found that mornings work best for me, after my brain has had the time to process all of its garbage thoughts from the day before, and before I have to start pumping in more useless thoughts about when I get a lunch break or if someone packed another box wrong (box packing unions just aren’t as good as they used to be). I get up, make myself some coffee, read one chapter of an improving book, and then get to work. I start writing at 8:30 every morning, and I write for at least a solid half hour. On the weekends I write for longer. The point is, at 8:30, I am there waiting for my muse to show up with whip and bondage gear.

This isn’t to say that the words always come easily. Your well of thought has to be replenished from time to time. For me, the best way to do that is to constantly refill it by reading.  Every day I try to read something that improves my mind (as opposed to Buzzfeed articles). If you write too much for too long, and it’s all output, no input, you’re in serious danger of burning out. But when you read daily, you balance out the mental energy. It’s like eating and exercising.  If you don’t eat, you won’t have the strength to exercise, and if you don’t exercise but you do keep eating, you’ll want to exercise soon enough.

Second, write whether you think it’s fun or not. The hard truth is, sometimes writing is not fun. And your landlord for sure does not care if writing is fun. I’ve said before on this site that there are big differences between amateurs and professionals, and this is one of them. You’re not getting paid to have fun; you’re lucky that sometimes you get to have fun as you work this job. And make no mistake, writing is a job. Or at least it is if you are serious about it and want to make something happen from it.

Third, tear your heart out. I’m not talking about melodrama here (unless you’re into writing melodramas, which, again, more power to you). I’m talking about writing the things that make you uncomfortable, that rip into your chest and make you feel the squishy bits that gross you out. If you’re not writing things that stretch you, that push you, that challenge you, you’re not growing. This growth can be in subject matter (that time when you were eight that you still won’t tell anyone about) or it can be in form (how many times do you think people will tolerate the same sentence structure before they fall asleep?). Think of it this way: how do muscles grow? When you exercise, the effort and exertion actually damage the muscle fibers. But then your body gets to work fusing new muscle fibers together, and these form bigger strands, causing growth. I’m not a muscle scientist, and parts of that might be wrong, but the general idea isn’t. There is no growth without there first being damage.

So—sadism. Do it. Discipline yourself every day. Get into that same chair, get into that same mindset. Make yourself get up. Forego that extra half hour of sleep. Then write, even if it isn’t fun, because your long-term goals are bigger than your temporary desires. And finally, write the stuff that’s hard to write—the stuff that breaks you—because that’s the only kind of stuff that will make you grow. Derive pleasure from the pain. You’ll find that pleasure is a much deeper experience than fun, anyway.

Writer Realities #7’s well known that artists are likely to starve until they become successful. But I bet you didn’t know that the majority of writers who aren’t in journalism have a day job. With the exception of Stephen King (who shall be named the messiah of the modern novel), most novelists are also professors. So don’t count out the possibility that you will still have to keep a full time job when you publish your first novel.


A good example of this phenomenon are two of my professors who both have published several commercial novels. One of them is becoming wildly successful at his work, and yet he still chooses to have a university position. Go figure!

Writer Realities #6: We Walk Alone

Writing is a lonely profession. It is done alone more often than not. When it is done in a community and shared with other writers, there is always the risk that you will still feel the ache of loneliness. If you are looking for a team effort, writing is not the answer. And if you are expecting a supportive community, other writers are not always the answer either.

Your work is your own responsibility in our realm of being.

Writer Realities #5: People Are Inherently Evil

Whatever philosophy you believe, I believe that everyone has the propensity for cruelty. When you become part of a scholarly or publishing community, you will encounter people who are selfish and overtly narcissistic. It may seem as if these are the only types of people that exist, but I assure you that amidst them are the enlightened individuals there for the art not a desperate grab at recognition. Just be aware that somewhere alone the line you will meet these people, and it will be easy to feel surrounded by their negativity.

The best way to circumvent these types is to remain calm and be prepared. They’re like ten year-olds at recess. Their only purpose by attacking you is to elevate themselves emotionally and in the eyes of their drooling spectators.

Writer Realities #4: The Whole Nine Yards

I would love to be able to say that we live in a literary renaissance full of high-quality text. In way, this partially true. Text – a word that no longer refers to only the presence of typeset on a page – is flourishing in the presence of internet connections and online media outlets. This means that the volume of work produced and published far exceeds any number before. This also means it is harder to sort out literary text from everything else, and it opens the door for writers who aren’t so special to have commercial success.

But, as long as there have been publishing houses, there has been a need for commercial success. A writer who doesn’t produce anything can’t have commercial success. At this point consumerism wins out, and those producing more volumes of work will likely be more successful than those who are not. The gist of it is, publishers want what will sell, not what will change the face of literature as we know it.

If you aren’t able to produce the writing, you won’t likely be commercially successful. This is likened to the phrase: if you want to be a writer you need to write. I’ll add to it by saying that if you want writing to be your day job, you’ll have to be willing to go the whole nine yards.