Stop Wishing and Start Working

by Joshua Cole
Joshua Cole Headshot
I was four when I realized I wanted to tell stories my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was twenty-two that I really started writing every day. One year after that decision, I sold my first book. Clearly, I had wasted eighteen years of my life knowing what I wanted while not working to get it. I know it’s a lot to ask of a four-year-old – to buckle down and start chasing his dreams – but the dreams were big enough then that I couldn’t have started early enough.

In high school, I spent a lot of time that I should have spent writing wondering why I wasn’t a prodigy yet. I wish someone had told me then that there is no such thing as a prodigy; just folks that put the work in early. I thought success was something that happened to the talented, not something that needed to be hunted, chased, and captured. Good stories stayed trapped in my head because I wasn’t driven enough. I guess I thought they’d just shake loose and fall out.

But writing is work, and it’s hard work. If we wanted easy lives, we would learn how to be satisfied with the world as it is. Instead we bow to the worlds in our head, and get frustrated when those worlds don’t bring us anything. They don’t owe us anything, though, and it still falls on us to bring them into being. They aren’t complete until they’re populated by readers, but they aren’t built until we build them.

All that takes is pen, paper, and will. We are only writers while we’re writing; it’s got nothing at all to do with publication or readership or even necessarily talent. Talent helps, but writing is a skill that develops as you do it, and atrophies as you don’t. If you want to be a writer, you write. If you aren’t writing, start figuring out what you’d rather be.

So what do I wish I knew then that I know now? I wish I knew to stop wishing and start working. I wish I had the patience to let the work be bad and trust it might someday be good. I wish I had the strength to run down what I wanted and attack it until it fell before me. People will tell you not to give up, but I’m just asking you to start in the first place. If, after that, you find that you can give up, go ahead and do it.

There are far easier lives than this.

Joshua Cole holds a degree in film and television, serves coffee and writes all sorts of fiction. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two unpleasant rabbits. Sparagmos will be his first book.