Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Being a Writer: Beachbody Style

Maybe you've heard about Beachbody. They're one of the biggest stakeholders in the excercise/diet/fitness industry and boast such programs as P90X, Turbo Jam and Hip Hop Abs. But we're not here to get in shape- even though 9 out of 10 Claire Dawns will tell you my blog is great mental exercise.

I use a lot of Beachbody products so I come into contact with their motto a lot.

Decide. Commit. Succeed.

I think it's a great formula for any sort of success. Especially as a writer. So for the next couple weeks I'll be talking about how to get your writing life in shape with Beachbody.


When do you become a writer? It's a tough question. But let's look at some other fields first for comparison purposes.

When do you become a waitress? I don't know what the norm is in your country, but for me I think the number of waitresses with professional training in food services is still not the majority- especially outside of the hotel industry. So, I'd say you probably become a waitress the day you take your first order and serve it to the customer.

When do you become a lawyer? In many professional fields, it's a qualification that determines whether or not you can use the title. Whether or not you have a job, or are practising or even intend to practise, you become a lawyer when you're admitted to the Bar (or whatever equivalent your country has). It's the same thing for other high academic professional fields: accountants, doctors, etc.

In some fields, it's works either way. You become a plumber by working in a plumbing company or by taking a plumbing course.

Now, let's look at writing. When do you become a writer?

Some people will say you're a writer when your book gets published. But you as a writer don't do anything on publication day, all of your work comes before hand.

Some people will say it's when you get a book deal. Ditto. Your book has probably still got a lot of edits between then and publication, but you've brought it far enough that a publisher is interested in it.

Some people will say it's the first day you sit down at a keyboard or pick up a pen with a story in mind. But in that case, every body who's ever written is a writer.

So, when do you become a writer?

Chalene Johnson of Turbo Jam says, 'It's mental, just decide.' And I agree. You're a writer when you say you are.

For years before I became a writer, I thought of being a writer. When I was really little I loved reading, but I first wanted to be a scientist. Eventually, as I think every book-lover does, I thought about being a writer. It was a fuzzy 'some day in the future' sort of dream. Sometimes I wrote as a kid, mostly poetry, as well as essays for school. I didn't even attempt a novel until I was about 15. (Only 15 pages in, I quit. I have the attention span of a gnat. Wait, no I take that back- a gnat's attention span is actually pretty long.)

As a teen, I had an incredible desire to be more practical. My natural yearnings are all towards 'immature' concepts like doing things I love, which is why I ended up being the only person doing the semi-random combo of French-Computer-Management at A Levels. (We only take 3 subjects plus general paper in the final years of secondary school.) But instead of going purely for the things I loved (like writing) I tried to find practicality within them. Like I love Management theory, so I aspired to be some kind of manager, even though I despise decision-making and actually being responsible for other people. And when I moved on to study languages, I aimed for teaching, even though I suck at discipline.

I never stopped writing- poetry at least- and a strange side effect of studying French and Spanish was being involved in the student government of the Faculty of Humanities and the University where I got to run and participate in Poetry Slams. I still considered writing completely impractical, and therefore a "childish" pursuit. But it could be that thing in the background that got me through all the miserable moments of practicality.

In 2008, I discovered nanowrimo, the 30 day novel-writing challenge. some of my friends from Canada and Scotland who happened to live nearby in the backwoods of Japan were doing it. And I thought, what the hey. I've always waanted to write a novel. And I have a job, which I'm required to be at 35 hours a week, but which only actually calls for 15 hours or so of actual work. And in all those hours when I'm not working, I'm sitting at a desk, staring at a computer. Since I never have desk jobs or jobs with down time, it seemed like the universe had aligned itself with the specific intent of having me write a novel. Perfect.

Nano is like a drug. After eating, sleeping, breathing your novel for 30 days, there's bound to be some residual effect. I started following Nathan Bransford, discovered Marsha and Natalie's blogs, and eventually started a general blog of my own, intending to focus one of the days specifically on writing. Some time between completing nano and the first year of writing my blog- a two year span- writing stopped being a thing to do in the background and moved into being THE thing I want to do, with everything else in the background.

Sometime in that two years, I decided I was a writer.

Having a Baby Changes Everything

Remember that slogan from Johnson and Johnson? Obviously your sleep pattern will change. Your ability to just go wherever and stay out for however long will change. The amount of free time you have will change.

But if you think about it logically, there are some things that change even though it's not absolutely neccesary. Some people change their lives so that they are a better example to their kids. What was good enough for them, is not a high enough standard for the kids.

When you have big changes in your life, they affect all the other facets of it.
When you decide to be a writer, everything changes as well. You stop writing only when the muse refuses to be ignored. Now you also write when the muse is only half-awake, when she's on leave, and even when she's curled in a ball in the corner laughing at you pitiful attempts. You spend time actively building a network of writers on blogs, twitter and writer forums. You try to improve your craft. You learn the industry. You wonder if you should go on that vacation, or if you should use the money for a conference. Or if you should turn the vacation into a solitaire writer's retreat in an exotic locale. You re-prioritise, because even though you'd love to go to that party, your fingers are on fire and you just have to get down these couple chapters. You take your Kindle to restaurant outings with friends, because heaven forbid there should be any downtime for reading and you not have something to read. What? That last one's just me, huh?

So, where are you? Have you decided yet? Say it with me.



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You become a writer when you begin writing. You become an author when your book is published. People tend to get the two confused.

J.B. Chicoine said...

I know there are fine lines of distinction between writer and author, and I believe much of it is semantics if you go by what the dictionary says. In practical terms—I agree with what Alex stated, especially in talking and dealing with the reading and writing community. But in my own mind, even though I am not published yet, I feel as if I’m an author—I’ve written 3 novels. I am a writer for sure, but didn’t actually claim that till relatively recently, when an old high school friend contacted me. One of the first things she wanted to know was ‘am I still writing? Did I ever finish that novel?’ I guess I’ve been a writer for years and never gave a thought to naming it…

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