If you want to be a writer you have to show up, sit down, and write. Words may be dictated to you by God as they were for Giacomo Puccini when he wrote the opera Madame Butterfly, but then it’s up to you to do the menial work of getting them down on paper, because you’re just the designated typist. That job involves a lot of hard, laborious, meticulous work that takes dedication and persistence. When it comes right down to it, writing is just a job, and like any other job you have to work at it. Okay, and it’s the only thing that makes you happy.
Writers like to tell other writers to trust the process. Show up, sit down and write, and trust that something good is emerging.
But how do you trust the process? It’s simple. You need a plan that guides your writing:
Pick a place to write in every day
Pick a time to write every day
Pick an amount of time to write every day
That’s it. It could be your favorite coffee shop at 7 a.m. for 30 minutes or your lunch hour. It could be your armchair in your living room at 7 p.m. Do that every day—or at least more days than not—and you’ll find the process is working.
Make it a habit to read work that matches roughly what you hope to write and publish. Read the kind of books you’d like to write, the poems you’d like to write, the articles you’d like to write for magazines. Make it as important as anything else you schedule in your day, and never allow busyness to crowd out the time you devote to consuming other good works.
Mary Gordon said, “A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror.”
Are you trying out new steps? A new dance? Writing in a journal is the place to experiment. To develop our talent further.
Today, try out a few steps in front of the mirror.
The creative life has to be kept in order on a regular basis. It’s not good enough to go to it for one day, or a few, a couple times a year. Creativity requires the luxury of time, which we must carve out for ourselves—even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Creative people need that luxury of time: time with friends, time with family, time to themselves with no agenda, even time to do their creative work.
We know in our bones what is right and what to do about it. Even if we say this is not so. Even if we will not admit it out loud. Even if the rigors of life distance us from our deeply intuitive lives. Even if, for reasons that seemed like good ones at the time, we have accepted permanent exile from our creativity impulses.
The truth is that creative people who don’t take time to take care of their creative life become very, very cranky. I have heard all the excuses that any creative person might knit up: I can’t right now. I’m not talented. I’m bored. I’m not important. I’m not educated enough. I have no ideas. I don’t know how. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. I don’t know why. I’m too busy. I don’t have time. I don’t have money. I don’t…I don’t…I don’t…
The promise of a creative life is very scary.
But, perhaps you didn’t know that being scared is most often very, very good for a creative person: it shows us what will happen if we allow ourselves to become talented derelicts. And often that’s scary enough to scare us back into creating again.
Don’t spend time wondering how you lost your way. It can be difficult to know exactly where we lost our way, for it is an insidious process, one that doesn’t occur in one day, but rather over a long period of time. We learn early to act on what others say, value and expect. Thus, we walk a long way down the wrong path before realize we did not actually choose this road.
Turn around, find your path. Walk your path.
Margaret Atwood, despite her enormous output, does not write every day.
She said: “You always think, ‘Oh, if only I had a little chalet in the mountains! How great that would be and I’d do all this writing…’ Except, no, I wouldn’t. I’d do the same amount of writing I do now and the rest of the time I’d go stir crazy. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment you’ll never write a thing because it will never arrive. I have no routine. I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”
This woman gives me hope!
“Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,–at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, lighthearted and generous to everyone else.”
— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write