Writers: We’re Miners, Not Mountain Climbers

How much different should I think?

A new acquantaince, whom I’ll call Romania, posed this question to me as we discussed writing last week, specifically what makes a professional writer.  Now, Romania’s young, still in high school, and just getting started, so I had to figure out what, in my mind was the biggest difference between a professional writer and a non-professional writer?

One word.


Put your gluteus group in the chair and write every. single. day.

If you’re a writer, and you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard it before.  If you really want to be a professional, sit down and write.

And then Romania brought up another great question.  If I write no matter what, won’t it make some scenes weaker?  Shouldn’t I write only when I’m at my peak?

I promise, he didn’t get there via teleport spell.  They don’t exist on Earth yet.

Yet I have a tough time with this “mountain climbing” analogy in my own writing.  I always have.  Here’s what I see.

The Mine of the Mind

This is the part where your characters whimper, “Let us out! It’s dark and scary down here!”

Before we get to the gem quality bits of this section, some background.  I’ve been writing most of my life.  Most of my life, I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer, though.  I used all those fun word.  Aspiring.  Hobby.  You know, the ones that clearly say, I sort of, maybe want to do this for a living, some day.  If the magical luck fairy waves her wand, finishes my novel, and turns me into a New York Times Bestseller!  (No longer on my bucket list, FYI.)

Funny thing about aspiring to be a writer is this.  BEING a writer is in your future and always will be.  However, this post is not about what makes a “real” writer, and Kristen Lamb’s already done a spectacular breakdown on why this is counterproductive if you want to get anywhere with writing as a career, so check it out.

In the meantime, back to my point.

As writers, I don’t know that we are mountain climbers.  We’re miners.  Every day, we go down into the mine that we call imagination – at least those of us specializing in fiction – and we take a pickaxe to the walls like Snow White’s Dwarf friends.  Most of what we come up with is dirt, rubble, and rock, and every once in a while, we find that oddly sparkly, dusty hunk of something that, once chipped, cut, ground, and polished, will go for millions.

Unfortunately, most of the writing advice we have likens our journey to mountain climbing, where we have to forge ahead until we reach the top.  While I grant my experience is not extensive, because I’m not Stephen King (who is, except, you know, Stephen King?) I’ve experienced one thing.  A deeper delving into imagination, the workings of the human mind and spirit, and a stronger understanding of what makes people tick.

Editing and the Refinery

Does this LOOK like a sword to you? But it COULD be.

Above, you see a picture of iron ore.  Raw iron ore.  This stuff is used to make everything from paper clips to samurai swords, and looks not much like either of those right now, does it?  Well, that’s very much what the first draft of any novel looks like.  Trust me, if you saw the first scribbled notes of some of your most beloved works of fiction, you’d wonder what madman dreamt up that character, because that is NOT what the hero you love would say.

As writers, we know what this hunk of ore will be when we pull it out of our minds.  We have a pretty solid idea that we’ll turn it into a sword or a steel chess piece or a bolt to hold together a few steel plates.  The editing process is our refinery.  It’s all the grinding and melting and scraping off slag that gets this rusty white rock from a rusty white rock into a blade that can cut a man’s heart in two and make him see the world in a new way.

Consistency and Habit

Never too late to write.

The problem is, we writers get into this habit of thinking we’ll get worse, unless we write only when inspired, or only when we’re at our best, and so we stare at the opening to that mine, expecting the ore, the words, to float out to us like some magical fairy dust that will fly us to writing stardom.  (I used to think like this too, so don’t feel bad.  We’re all guilty at some point.)

We’d also love to have a completely original story with no clichés, no repetitions of things anyone else has done, none of that “stuff.”  And that’s okay…except you can’t make a steel sword out of aluminum.  The two metals are not the same, and one will definitely break.  So, the biggest thing to remember if you love writing, and you want to keep writing, and you want to build your writing into something great is this.

The climber didn’t build the mountain.  But when all is said and done, you are the miner, refiner, and blacksmith of your story, so long as you know how to listen to those helping you along the way.  The most important job you have, though, is miner, so get out the pickaxe that is your pen, typewriter, or keyboard, and start swinging.  That ore won’t mine itself, and the world needs your story.

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