My office door is closed as I write this, but I can hear the sounds from downstairs as they sneak through the small crack at the bottom—the laughter of two small children, the sound of dinner almost made, laughter from the television. Yet here I sit and peck.
I demand a thousand words a day from myself, which sounds a lot more than it really is. It doesn’t matter what those thousand words happen to be about, nor does it matter what they are for. It could be a blog post or a book chapter or food for the garbage can, and it doesn’t matter. Because it’s still writing, and that’s what matters.
It seems absurd to have to state that a writer is a person who writes, and yet I have to constantly remind myself of that. It’s a concept I can just as easily let go of as grasp. I can delude myself into thinking that if I’m reading a book about writing, I’m writing. I am learning my craft. The same goes for walks outside (“research,” I call it) and trips to Staples (“preparation”). But it doesn’t work that way.
Because a writer writes.
So it’s a thousand words for me. Every day. Regardless. Because I need that discipline. I need the reminder that even if writing is not who I am, it is what I do.
The thing is this:
There are days when those words gush forth from that mysterious place inside me like water from a fire hose. When I have long hours to sink into my desk and ponder. When the sun falls through open windows and warms everything and heaven itself seems to pour upon me buckets of inspiration.
Those days are rare. Exceedingly so.
More often than not those thousand words will be stretched out from around six o’clock in the morning until one o’clock the next. Rather than gushing forth, those words will be cajoled and, in some cases, dragged into the light. Most of them will come in those precious few minutes between one thing at work and another at home, between schleps around a college campus with a hundred pounds of mail and helping with second-grade homework. They will come when I sink myself into my desk not out of comfort, but out of exhaustion. When the moon shines against draped and curtained windows and leaves me cold. When inspiration comes in slow drips like sap from a tree.
That’s the norm sometimes. Tonight especially. But I’m here and here I’ll stay until I have my thousand words.
I always thought I’d be a writer when I reached an audience or when I got published. But the truth is that when the one came along and then the other, I never felt any different than I had before. Every writer wants validation, and often that validation comes in the form of book and agent contracts or an increasing number of visits to a website or blog. Then the words will rush out. Then you’ll be a writer.
Trust me—that’s just not so.
A writer doesn’t become a writer by getting a steady stream of comments or a high-profile agent or a higher-profile publisher.
A writer becomes a writer by writing.
There’s a knock at the door. I look up and see a tiny head peeking.
“Hey, Dad,” says my son.
He doesn’t want anything and doesn’t say more, he just wants to know I’m still here. I say that I’m almost done and then I’ll be down. We can play super hero. He nods and smiles and is gone.
If writing teaches you nothing else, it will teach you this—sometimes you have to be selfish. You have to get your words in. Your family won’t always understand. Neither will your friends. That’s okay. It comes with the territory. At its core writing is a lonely task, and so is my thousand words. Because in order to share myself with the world, there are times when I must remove myself from it.
I take a look at my counter and see that I now have 684 words. Perfect. And I realize it’s time to drag more words out into the light, and that I’d better hurry.
Because there’s a little boy downstairs who wants to play super hero.