The term “steps” is a little misleading here, I think. It implies a to-do list. “Follow these easy steps and you too can be a bestselling author!” But that’s not what the authors are talking about. Perhaps stages would be a better word, but, you know, they want to keep in line with the metaphor of a path and all…
The first stage they say a writer goes through is unhappiness (taken in a broadly encompassing way). The second is wanting. You know you’re unhappy, so what do you want to do about it?
This is where the book starts to feel like one of those motivational seminars where some guy with a grin so big he could swallow you whole is telling you how to change your life. However, within that there was a core of truth to it.
What do you want? In the book, they suggest writing out a list of the things you want, or even just list ten things you want, and blah blah blah. I get where they’re going. It’s all about what lurks beneath. Self-examination.
J. Michael Strazynski did something similar in an episode of Babylon 5 with the question “Who are you?” One of the characters is interrogated by the an agent of the good guys (well, sorta) with that same question over and over again. She’s not allowed to give the same answer twice, and as it goes on she ends up questioning who she really is.
What do you want?
It’s a deceptively easy question. The kind you can keep peeling back layers from to find something more. Let’s approach it more like in Babylon 5.
- What do you want?
- To be a famous writer.
- That’s just an image of where you see yourself down the road. A fantasy goal like being an astronaut or a fighter pilot. What do you want?
- To write books.
- So write a book, anyone can do that. You put words on a page, fill a few hundred, then stop. Give it a happy ending and put a dog in it. Go deeper. What do you want?
- To write stories people enjoy reading.
- Why? What does that matter? What do you want?
- For people to like me?
Heh. Not the biggest revelation of my life. I’ve known that for ages. Even before I got anything published, even before I got anything written, I know that one of the reasons I wanted to write was because I wanted to tell stories people would enjoy reading, and as a result they’d like me.
I doubt I ever admitted that last bit to myself as a kid, it never needed to be vocalized because it was part and parcel of the image: Go to book signings, get recognized on the street – “Hey, you’re the guy who wrote that awesome book.” Even if it was never major fame, but my own niche, it would have been something. I got a taste of that while I was doing Fuzzy Knights. I liked it.
Writers are a needy lot. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In Babylon 5, The Shadows ask that the question “What do you want?” in much the same way as the good guys ask “Who are you?” Problem is, they’re the bad guys. The inference here is that wanting is bad and selfish, but actually it’s a very natural and human thing. How are you going to do anything if you don’t know what you want? Want. Want it all. Want everything. Then when you figure out from all that what you really want, you’ve only got one question left.
What are you going to do about it?
So onto the third step/stage: commitment.