Talent and a buck-fifty will get you a cup of coffee.

This is going to be one of those weird rambling posts but bear with me.

We recently got a keyboard. The piano-like kind, not the typing one. My partner has decided that he wants to try and revive his piano playing, and after tinkering around on it, I decided that I want to try and teach myself to play a little bit.

First, about him. My partner apparently achieved some ridiculously high level of musical proficiency through formal lessons when he was young, but he’s about the least musical person I’ve met. He sings completely wrong notes and can’t hear it. He has no rhythm. He doesn’t even listen to music.

The thing is, though, he passed the same music tests as people with an ear and a talent for music.

Now, about me. I did a big six weeks of piano when I was ten, and a couple of years of Viola in junior high. Nothing since. I don’t have much of an ear; I’ve been able to pick out a melody or two, but while I can hear when something is wrong, I can’t figure out how to make it right. I like to sing, though I am not good at it. I want to figure out how to play a couple of songs, but I have no interest in formal training or practice.

One thing I’ve found is that it’s so much easier to learn piano now than it used to be. It’s easy to find music for things you like in varying degrees of complexity. There are thousands of videos that can show you how something is played, apps teach you songs Guitar Hero-style. With some diligence, I can learn to play something that sounds like a song, without even really (re)learning how to read music.

What the fuck does all this have to do with writing?

First, look at him. Without talent, it’s possible to learn to play well through nothing but work. The same goes for writing. If you are sitting there wondering if you are imaginative enough, talented enough, creative enough, to really make it as a writer, stop right there. You can be good just by learning your craft and working on it.

You may not be a literary genius, but you know, literary genius isn’t clear until someone first gets through all the working of learning to be good. So put aside whether or not you are enough, and get to work.

Next, look at me. With a little bit of work, these days it’s not too hard for me to fake having some musical ability, even though anyone who knows anything about music could quickly see that I don’t really know shit. That’s also true of writing. These days, anyone can fill a bunch of pages with words and self-publish and be an author. But that doesn’t mean that they know their shit.

I’m not knocking self-publishing because there’s still a place for it, much like there’s still a place for people like me who want to learn to play a song or two without actually being any kind of a musician.

If you’re a writer watching people who don’t know what they are doing, and watching other people heap praise and kudos on them, don’t despair over the state of the world. It’s easier to learn to play a song. It’s easier to put a book out.

But to write well is still a matter of putting the work into it.

(Unlike I did with this blog post.)

Give it a Rest.

Writers write. They write every day. There is no writer’s block, there is only resistance so write, write, write, the cure to not writing is writing, even if you don’t feel like writing, just write. WRITE!


(There is a certain irony in that this blog post comes after I have spent many months not writing, but such is life.)

In all the advice about writing, one of those most common is to write every day. Write if you don’t feel like it. Write a set number of words, for a set number of minutes, at a set time and place every day. Because to be a writer, you have to write.

It’s good advice because I still haven’t found a writer who isn’t a master procrastinator. I mean, why write when there is Netflix? Have you seen how much good stuff there is on Netflix? They say this is a golden age in television, you know.

(Sometimes I can convince myself that my Netflixing is really studying structure in both episodic and long-form, but really it’s because I like TV.)

But the big problem with this advice is that you are not an automaton. You aren’t a machine churning out words. You can’t just put butt in chair and expect words, words, words, magic, magic, magic.

If you are sitting in your writing place with a feeling of dread, if it feels like pulling teeth, if you are beating yourself up for not putting words on the page but then have to force every word of you so that you are still beating yourself up WHILE putting words on the page… you need to stop writing for a while. Make it a vacation, one with a defined beginning and end. Important to define the time so that you can release any guilt over not writing. This isn’t not writing because you are procrastinating; this is deliberately not writing.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve had guilt-free non-writing time, make it a long vacation. It’s not a vacation if you spend the whole time beating yourself up for being on vacation.

Now, go have fun. Spend time with friends. Drink something ridiculously fancy. Check out that art gallery exhibit you’ve been meaning to see. Organize your closets for the sheer satisfaction of having neatly organized closets and post pictures of them on Facebook for admiration.

You cannot expect yourself to write without end without rest. Rest. Enjoy your life.

You may love it so much that you decide that not writing is better than writing and that is fine. It’s no reason to worry that maybe you aren’t a writer. You are still a writer. Doctors are still doctors even when they are lying on a beach beside a margarita. Actors are still actors when they are home doing the laundry. Monet puttered in his garden and was still Monet. You are just taking a rest.

At the end of your rest, open the notebook again. Fire up your laptop and read the last thing you wrote. Write that first tentative sentence, those toddling steps, so uncertain and unsure.

Let it all come back. It will come back. Promise.