Beginning. I’ve learned to pay attention to synchronicity. When one colleague repeated his desire to write, but hadn’t started, I replied, ”Perhaps it’s not a priority yet. Doesn’t have to be a problem. When you’re ready, it will come.” He nodded and walked away, but he had more of a spring in his step as he left.
This concept can be helpful in other situations too. You probably already thought of something you didn’t do. Write that letter. Start the house project. Sign up for the _______ class. Be honest. Maybe it just hasn’t been a priority.
A few days later. Writer friend asks, “How should I begin?”
“Make it simple. Don’t think.”
“Yeah, just sit down and write stuff. Write garbage. Write pages that are like the warm-up for your workout. Start anywhere. Write the part that keeps repeating in your head.”
Or “I always know the ending; that’s where I start.” ~ Toni Morrison
Write about the event in your life that haunts you. Get rid of the ghost. Put it on paper.
After a reading event, someone in the audience said, “You’re so lucky. You’ve got two books published already.” I didn’t quite know how to respond. As if published books had happened overnight. My first book was a glimmer of an idea even before I knew it would be a book. What got me going was when I realized how I felt when I was writing – I felt free, without anxiety. I recalled a formula for happiness from a self-help book. Paraphrased it went something like: When something feels good or seems to work, plan how to do it again.
I started setting time aside just to write. I learned to be protective of that time. I turned to writers who wrote about writing. Brenda Ueland’s words about women doing less housework and more writing as a creative outlet resounded over and over. Natalie Goldberg’s words about putting pen to paper made sense. Nike emboldened me: Just do it. Recovery phrases seeped into my writing life. One day at a time translated to one page at a time.
Chunk it down. Most problems are easier if I can look at what to do in stages. I relate it to reading. I love reading. I never read just a page or a chapter. I think I’ll read one chapter. Doesn’t happen. I look at my writing like this too. One page becomes two, or a chapter or more. Equate time for writing with something you love to do.
Another gem from a recovery program. Find one person you can share/ begin to share your secrets with. Someone who will not laugh, or back away in horror, or be indifferent. Someone who will listen, cry, or laugh with you. And will not tell anyone else. Because it’s your secret to tell, not theirs. Use that one person to talk to when things get weird, scary, or overwhelming. In my writing it was one writer, Loanne Mayer. We met once a week to talk about our secret writing dream, then we wrote for two hours. More writers joined us and gradually became our Scriveners Writing Group in New Jersey.
Over the years I’ve been a part of, and started, many writing groups. I have gathered a widespread community of writing colleagues. Some I see in person, some on Facebook, some at conferences. But I listened and began to share ideas. I got feedback that made sense. I started to give feedback. My solitary activity of writing now includes a weekly meeting of writers, who gather around a table and write in silence. No talking, no critiquing. There is a sense of peace and shared support in that silence. If you haven’t tried a group, be willing to think about it.
Don’t think, again. I tend to overthink things, big time. Should I revise this chapter- again? Should I make it fiction or non-fiction? (Notice the “shoulds,” the all-time thieves of self-esteem?) So much mental circling is exhausting and often starts at night. My husband and I call this “late night talk.” My husband declines to enter into late night talks because they can be seasoned with drama, exaggeration, and other unhappy emotions. RX for late night talk. Go to bed. Read a book. Embrace Scarlett O’Hara’s motto: I’ll think about it tomorrow.
The next day late night talk often has morphed into “Good grief! What was I thinking?” Or possibly a blander version of the late night idea will work in the light of day.
Resuming your writing. In addition to the two friends with the experiences of not even getting started, and their own mortification at not going through with what they said they wanted to do, there is another saboteur. This often is, ironically, a more humiliating situation. It’s the writer who has started, but not finished.
Writer slumped over her coffee, without looking at me: I haven’t sat at the computer for three months. I’ll have to begin all over again.
Been there, done that. “Not true.” I plied her with more coffee. “Look at it as resuming. Not beginning. Think of it like reading a book. Each time you pick up the book you don’t start all over again. You read from where you left off … You know what to do.”
Trust yourself. You remember what and why you wanted to write. Evict the judge inside your head who says, “Suffer. Stay in guilt, inappropriate though it may be.”
Inappropriate guilt about not writing or not writing enough (now there’s a diminishing statement) coupled with late night guilt is a sure-fire exhauster and assassin of self- esteem. Banish it.
Resume. Sit down at the computer. Pose your fingers over the keyboard. Hit some keys. Write a word. Write another. You’re on your way.
Plan when and where you intend to write. Be specific. “Soon” doesn’t cut it. “Home” does not work. Picture it. 11AM- 2PM on Tuesday at my dining room table with the drapes open to let in sunshine. A/C on. Phone off. Laptop and folder ready. Coffee made. Apple sliced. Cushion on chair.
Get a writing group or partner, in the flesh or online, to state your intention to or share your ideas with.
What to write.
Either you have an idea or you don’t. Let the idea choose you. You do not have to be motivated or inspired. ~ Natalie Goldberg
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. ~ Stephen King
When I taught writing to second graders, I often heard:
Second grade lament: But I don’t know what to write about.
Reply: If you did know, what would it be? Amazing the number of young writers who had a positive reply.
Reply: Make a list of all the things you absolutely do not want to write about.
Enlightened second grade lament: Cool!
Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down. ~ Ray Bradbury Well, that one can still stir up palpitations, but I’m getting better.
Last quote from my all-time favorite wordsmith, Maya Angelou: Words are things… Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.
Let your words get into you.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.