Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Drive to Write: Do you have what it takes?

By: Deb McLeod
Deb McLeod The Writing Ranch
Image courtesy of Flickr: Nicolas A Tonelli

My husband, John, and I watched the movie “Whiplash” a few days ago. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

Short synopsis that only includes what I need for this article: A young drummer at a premiere conservatory is pushed to excess by his teacher. But the drummer wants it so he takes the abuse until he snaps and attacks the teacher and the teacher ends up getting fired. Student and teacher meet later at a jazz club and over a drink the teacher confides the following: (Note – the F bomb has been edited out – a few times.)
Truth is I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Shaeffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is an absolute necessity. Otherwise we’re depriving the people of the next Louis Armstrong. The next Charlie Parker.
The story rests on the fact that Charlie Parker was laughed off stage in his young career but that only made him more determined. The teacher, Tucker, cites the logic that if Parker’s teacher hadn’t humiliated him and Parker hadn’t gone back to practice and practice and practice so he would never suffer that humiliation again, there would have been no “Bird.”

Tucker, expresses his frustration at the students who give up, who don’t take it seriously, who don’t practice. The students who have no drive.

As a writing coach I understand the frustration. I have had clients whose voices could make you weep – there are scenes I still remember hearing in my writing circles that I can almost quote. What really makes me weep is that many of those incredibly talented writers aren’t writing any longer.

The hardest part of my job is to fan the passion and drive in the writers who cross my path. Generally they come to me with the passion already lit. But, many of them prove they don’t have the drive.

Since I saw “Whiplash” I’ve been wondering how you fan that drive. What makes one writer slink away after a humiliation or a rejection and another try harder? Why is it so hard for most writers to close off the noise and focus on their work? Because that, my friends is the number one reason the clients who stop writing, do stop writing. They cannot or do not want to close off the noise and focus on the work.

I used to tell clients if you can live without writing then you should. I’ve mellowed on that a bit, but maybe that needs to be resurrected again. Writing is hard. The apprenticeship is long. It may not ever be financially or critically rewarding. Is it ethical of me to encourage writers without sugarcoating the conditions?

Here’s an informal quiz you might take before you embark on this long journey into yourself. Answer these questions and see if you have what it takes:
  • Do you enjoy life in your head?
  • Do you have a knack for figuring out the plot in a movie or a book? 
  • Is reading a fact of life? 
  • Do libraries and bookstores make you feel warm and fuzzy, like long days with a fireplace, coffee, a pen and paper and no one home for hours? 
  • Do you enjoy working in solitude – I used to say, pile on more work than I can get done and close the door on your way out. 
  • Do you read with a deep purpose? 
  • Does approaching a writing project excite you for the discovery of the project and not the result (fame, fortune and other fairy tales)? 
  • Can you stomach the rejection? The criticism? The loneliness? The fact that an acquaintance and a worse writer than you has success first? 
  • Can you close it all out and get lost in your stories? Do you want to? 
Can you live without writing? If you can, maybe you should. I really mean that.

I teach with positive methods rather than the negative of intimidation. I had teachers like that. The ones that signaled there was a club I didn’t belong to. And yes, to a certain extent, it made me try harder, if only so I could go back and thumb my nose at them when I had a NY Times bestseller. Well I haven’t had the bestseller yet and they have long since left the building. I write now for me. I write because it’s the thing I love most in the world.

As a coach and a teacher I happen to believe everyone has a voice and all voices should be heard. But does that encourage someone who doesn’t really have the chops?

When I think of what encouraged me, I can honestly say that it wasn’t a teacher at all. It was the fact that I can’t not write. I can’t live without books and movies. I love getting lost in a project. I love getting up at 4:30 and heading out to Starbucks to work on my novel for the next 5 hours. I love my client’s projects too. Many times more than they do.

It’s January. Time to reassess. What’s it going to take for you get in the chair, dig into your soul and pour it on the page? 

When you’re done, send it to me and we’ll celebrate it together. Then sit down and do it again.

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fifteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see


  1. What a great article Deb! I am re-motivating myself this year and this has added fuel to my fire. Thank you.

    1. Thanks! And good for you. It can be done and I am proof. Let me know how it's going.

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