I want to be a writer, but . . . .

1. I don’t have time.
2. I’ll never be good enough.
3. I don’t know how to start writing my book.

The time has come for me to break the web of silence and give you the secret and arcane knowledge that you must possess to become a writer. I warn you that it may make your eyes bleed and your stomach ache. But it’s a small price for becoming a writer. Right?
1. I don’t have time. I’m going to wait until I graduate from school, until after I get a job, until my vacation, until after my wedding, love the wedding dress so much, and he prom gown. until after the baby is potty trained, until the kids are in school, until I retire . . . . .

Okay, you get it. Big events fill up our lives. Day to day grinds take our every minute. We get home from work or school exhausted. The kids NEVER go to bed at a decent hour. By the time the house is quiet, all I want to do is turn off my brain and zone out with a TV series or Bejeweled.

Sorry. That is not on your ‘be a writer’ agenda. The truth is, you will never have more free time than you do right now. Your life will always fill up with stuff you need to do. Even after you are successful and no longer have a day job, you will still need to get the car serviced, pull the weeds, pick up your friend at the airport, call the plumber and mop the floor, oh, and since you ‘don’t work’, can you watch your friend’s kids this afternoon? Life does not stop so that you can write a book.

So here is what you do. Get a notebook. electronic or paper, I don’t care. Paper ones never need batteries, and tend to fit better in you backpack, diaper bag or purse. I like paper. Then write. Write on the bus to work. Write while waiting for the dentist. Write between classes. Write on your lunch hour. Write during the kids’ soccer practice. In the evening, leave the room where the television is and write. It can be done. In fractions of hours, throughout the day, you can amass words like a squirrel storing nuts. At the end of the day, sit down at a keyboard, and put those words into a document. (They will magically grow as you do so, for you will realize you need to tell what sort of a tree it was, or describe exactly how her lip curls.)

Once you start doing this, you will find your writing time. It’s there, in your life. You just need to find it. (Hint. Your writing time is not on Facebook or Twitter. Do not look for it there.)

2. I’ll never be good enough.
Good enough for what? Can you talk? Do you tell your friends, spouse or kids what you did today? Then you are telling a story. Use your own voice and write words down. Mickey Spillane did not write like Professor Tolkien or e e cummings or Lois McMaster Bujold does. But I think we can all agree that they are extremely readable and enjoyable. So stop holding on to that self fulfilling prophecy and write. Spellcheck will nag you to fix your spelling while grammar checks will show you new and interesting ways to be wrong. Just tell the story. Get it nailed to the page. Re-writing is where you go back and make it pretty, and put in foreshadowing and create the witty repartee. But, to get to the re-writing, you first have to do the writing. So turn off the television and Facebook and twitter and WoW and write the book. So you can re-write it and make it good.

3. I don’t know how to start writing my book.
Neither do I. So I never start writing a book. A book is big. It’s lots of pages and many many words. No one can write a book tonight. But what you can write is a scene. Write a fight scene, or describe the village in the fold of the mountains or delineate exactly how his muscled back looks in the moonlight. Write something that excites you, that scene that you think you have to wait until the middle of the story to write. Write that. You might just discover that, truly, that is where your book is supposed to start. Or, once written, you may back up and start framing that scene with the other scenes that will give it the full impact. But don’t try to write a book.

So, sorry, I lied to you. Fiction writers do that a lot. There isn’t a secret to being a writer. Just a piece of advice that no one, not even me, wants to take.

Go write.

14 Responses to I want to be a writer, but . . . .

  1. I am re-reading your books at the moment and they are inspiring me with my own writing.To help me get writing and get the job done I set a timer on my desktop, 1 hour every day. If I only make 45 minutes, then the next day 1hr 15. If I do extra I bank it, do an hour and a half and I’ve got an early mark the next day or I bank some more. But I keep to the minimum; 1 hour every day, weekends, sick, well, busy or not.

    Once again love the books


  2. Good advice. I started following it some time ago after reading a version of number 1 above, which you gave elsewhere (Right here, write now. Or write here, right now.). Slowly, the words of my first novel are piling up, and I’m excited. At worst the result will be (and is) a valuable learning experience for me.

    The magic of your stories has added fire to my desire to also write. The Farseer Trilogy and Liveship Traders were awesome. I’m looking forward to The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rainwild Chronicles and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. Maybe even The Soldier Son Trilogy. One thing I’m finding about writing is that it sucks reading time out of my life, but I’ll get there.

    Thanks for the advice, and for your books.

  3. Thanks a lot for this “revitalizing” post ; I will tell some of my pupils to read it, because many of them are writing, and many do not dare to write !
    Would you allow me to copy this text and your signature of course, and post it on the shelves of the library of our High school (lycée Condorcet, Belfort, France) ?

    Thank you in advance,

    Claire BOS-ONIMUS

  4. I remember when i was reading Robins F.A.Q about writing advices like 8 years ago, when i was just casually writing and dreaming about completing a book.

    I remember when i actually ‘started’ writing, 4years later and finnished my first manuscript or book(what ever u want to call it) and realised after that it was totally horrible. – I knew i could make my manuscript MAYBE more “tolerable” or less bad with rewriting… but i kind of knew that it would be just better to start writing new story right away(i anyway rewrited half of the story anyway, but lets not speak about it now).

    Now 8years later(after i read Robins F.A.Q), im rewriting 7th time (or so) my 3rd book/manusrcipt, and it got to semifinals in novel writing competition in my country (top-72 out of 770 manuscripts) in which published writers and aspiring writers could both take part in. (I don’t know if it had made difference but at the time that competitions deadline kicked in i had only 50k words out of 100k words of my story rewrited ‘as fine as i was able at the time.)

    Couple of months after the competition, im rewriting second half of my 3rd manuscript again, and feeling pretty good about it(lol can writer himself say that?!)… about writing itself i mean(lies).

    Anyway, i just wanted to say, that in my particular adventure – just making MORE time for writing, and actually WRITING have taken me so far(ofc theres a lot more than just writing, lectures, writing, reading, writing, research, writing… but maybe u get my point.) So Robin, my humble thanks for your words of wisdom ^^ dont take me wrong, they really helped me, especially in the very beginning of my journey.

    PS:Soz for my bad english, + it’s kind of cool that fizz&fools 7th book comes out in the same month when i hit 25, and my healtbar goes to 1/4 (or so they say).

  5. 🙂
    I personnally find the hardest part is to show your writing to someone else, subjecting yourself to critique for a piece of writing that you’re very attached to.

    Looking forward to reading Fool’s Assassin!

  6. Stop doing that please. Stop saying such things that echo so deeply inside me they seem to be meant for me. It’s creepy, you know?

    Allright then, I’ll try again to escape this deadly “Skill River” they call “Facebook” or “Internet”, and someday, somehow, I hope, I’ll have to thank you for pulling me back into myself. To write. To write at last, about that little girl and her undead chick ( sorry but its name is Spit – your fault), and about that brave and free-spirited goat of mine (AmalthĂ©e (Ama), oh, you can use her name… fair enough?).

    But for now…. Thank you for these marvellous, wonderful, brilliant journeys you offer us . Thank you for making my day work bearable (via audiobooks). Thank you for every bit of pain or joy you give us. Thank you… for writing .

    Please be kind to the Fool.

    xxxxx from France.


  7. Dear Robin Hobb,
    You are one of the best writers I’ve ever known. Bah, probably one of the best in the world. Big writers like you never actually reveal the secrets of writing. BUT you did. THANK YOU. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. 
    I considered myself sometimes to become a writer but words alone never suited me. I’m planning to write comic books instead. Comic books also need writing. But, (there’s always a but, isn’t?) it is always like you say: there is always a movie to watch, a book to read or game to play. And when you finally sit down to do something its like: this character design is terrible! This dialogue doesn’t make any sense! How can I make a comic when I can’t even draw a human properly?! 
    However, very seldom, there comes a time when I just sit and  draw or write like there’s no tomorrow: without worrying about  lines, awful backgrounds, university next day or all this amazing artists who are better than me. It’s just me, my characters and their story and nothing else matters then. Ain’t the right way of creating? Just letting out, letting go? =) 
    Anyway, I just wanted to share this with you to let you know how much posts like that encourage me to go forward. This little piece of golden words is going to hang on my wall as a motivational poster, next to Walt Disney’s ‘Keep moving forward’. 

    I wish you all the best Ms.Hobb, you are my hero,

  8. Oh, yes, and always remember to shut down your internal editor before applying your fingers to the keys. Otherwise you may experience a temporary power outage. 🙂

  9. Truth to tell, I’ve never been able to do that. I pound and cut and sand and shape, and then I submit it for publication. Of course, I’ve got a fat file of rejection slips from learning how to write that way, but like you, I could not bring myself to submit my work to my friends’ critiques.


  10. My friend Vonda McIntyre says, “There is no wrong way to write a book.” Take whatever writing advice works for you and forge ahead. Best of luck to you.