On his Tumblr, popular Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis often responds to fan questions. Many of the questions are about the writing process. Over the weekend, he got a question that kicked off more of a controversy than usual. Here's the question:
what advice do you have for someone that has had writers block for the past 6 or 7 years?
Bendis replied (everything in his response is [sic]) with constructive criticism:
this will sound harsh but you’re probably not a writer.
writer’s writer every day. it’s ok, not everyone is.
but if you consider yourself one, get off your ass and get back to work!! write about why you haven’t been writing . anything. just write.
And Tumblr, being Tumblr, lost its shit over Bendis's answer:
Fuck you people and your bullshit labels. Notice in the question, which you barely addressed before you started liberally applying your condescending nonsense to this person’s life, the words “am I a writer” do not appear. So how about you fling open the stupid gates of your dumb categorizations of people and let writers be people who write as little or as much as they want to or are able, so long as it makes them whole and happy.
Haven’t written in a year because I work 12s (during which I brainstorm) for 14 days shifts, and have two kids. But I can’t keep a schedule of writing up, and my brain is literally too exhausted to think at the end of my work day, and I’m chasing two kids during my two weeks off, have a house to maintain, and am trying to recover from my schedule.
But make no mistake. I don’t write it on paper or in a word processor every day, but I have whole finished stories written in my head.
...This post is ableist as fuck. Some weeks, I’m lucky if I can get myself in the shower at least once. But I’m expected to write EVERY DAY?! Apparently only neurotypicals are allowed to be writers.
Fuck that and fuck you.
The conversation continues for thousands of reposts and likes, with other professional writers standing up for Bendis and with many more Tumblr-ers calling Bendis and his supporters "elitist" and "exclusionary," telling them to check their privilege, and so on. Many of these posts do make a good point, in that they call these writers out for comparing writing to torture, addiction, or mental illness. That kind of hyperbole isn't helping anyone.
There's a lot of rage aimed at Bendis, as though the guy who writes Ultimate Spider-Man is the last word in writing advice. Taking his Tumblr in context, his advice always has to do with being a professional writer. And the truth is that if you want to be a professional writer, you do have to write. A lot. You don't get an award for wanting to write more. Nobody's going to buy the book you've got stored in your head. Every writer I've interviewed about writing has been clear about the fact that they write all the goddamned time, even if it's total garbage that they know will never make it to the printed page. (Of all the writers I've interviewed, only China Miéville made a specific point of saying that he doesn't write every day; he only writes when he's got a story to work on. Although his prodigious output would indicate that he must write pretty often.) You can call yourself a writer and not write. You can call yourself whatever you want. But if you want to write for a living, you have to write a lot.