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.