By Beth Mende Conny
© 1999-2012 Beth Mende Conny. All rights reserved in all media.
The content of WriteMeditations™ may be forwarded in full without special permission, provided it is used for nonprofit purposes and full attribution and copyright notice are given. For other purposes, contact Beth Mende Conny at Beth@WriteDirections.com.
Attribution: © Beth Mende Conny, the founder of WriteDirections.com and the author of more than four dozen books and collections.
The creative well
Take the pressure off yourself. You may have an idea for just one article or book, but the creative well runs deep. Where this idea came from, others will follow. Put another way: You are more than just this one project.
To think of it as your one and only shot places an undue burden upon it — and you. Any move you make becomes a potentially wrong move. But there are no wrong moves in the creative process. There are only moves.
Moving with the current
Just when you think you know where you're headed with your writing, you suddenly find yourself moving in a new direction. "Darn," you think, trying to will yourself back, "what went wrong?"
Truth is, something likely has gone right: Your writing is moving with the current that runs through most projects. And that current flows where it flows.
Beginnings and secondaries
What's the best place to begin your book? At the only place you can: the beginning. Wherever the heck that may be.
Beginnings vary from writer to writer. Some writers jump in by writing the pivotal scene of their novels and then working backwards. Others dash off to the library to gather reams of notes and quotes. Still others hole up in coffee shops to sketch by hand and heart the grand sweep of their literary vision.
Ultimately, one beginning is as good as the next. Beginnings, after all, are first steps. They create momentum, and momentum is all you need initially. Second steps are secondary.
A leap of faith
Writing requires that we make a leap of faith — eyes closed, heart open. We don't know where our words will lead, and this scares us. We fear working without a net, working without a guarantee that we will not fall and hurt ourselves. Fear not: It is the act of leaping that weaves the net.
Listen to your silent partner
Projects are partnerships. Don't make your writing the silent partner. Listen to what your work has to say; let it tell you what it wants to be.
Climb that mountain
You write a book the way you climb a mountain — one step at a time. Know that there will be times when you get tired of the exertion, when you despair, believing you'll never finish.
But know this as well: There will come a point when you realize you've gone too far to turn back. Let yourself reach that point, because it is there that your book begins to write itself.
Grit and bear it
Writing requires a lot of doing — doing stuff you don't like, that is. You’ve got transcribe notes, do hours of research, organize your notes ... Sometimes you even have to write. No fun there. Complaining helps, as does procrastination. At some point though, you’ve got to grit and bear it. Might as well make it today.
Magic and touchstones
Some objects have magical qualities. Favorite mugs or rings, colorful T-shirts or figurines — when we look at or hold them, we feel comforted, as if we were in the company of near and dear friends. Why not let this friendship extend to your writing?
Find an object and let it become your touchstone. Imagine that it holds your purest, most creative thoughts, and that with just one touch or glance, the thoughts will be released.
Choose an object you can take with you to work or on vacation, or simply from room to room. Let it sit with you, so you can make eye contact and enjoy the presence of a good friend.
Writer’s block, leaders and followers
Often blocks occur when we’re moving at a good clip, along a route we’ve carefully charted. Weeks of pondering, journaling and sketching have paid off. We know exactly where we’re going with our novels, stories and articles, and why. We start to write, everything flows, then whammo! We hit a wall.
How unfair! Everything was going according to plan, right?
The answer is yes — and no.
See, up until this time we’ve called the shots, and, in the process, made ourselves creative dictator. Now, however, our writing projects have rebelled; they won’t budge until their voices are heard. They want a turn at leading; they want us to follow.
At times like these, the best course is to do what they want: go along for the ride. Let them choose how quickly they will move and in what direction. Our role is to sit back, take a few deep breaths and wait, pen in hand, for when it’s our turn to take the lead.
Have faith. We always get another turn.
Going it Alone
As nice and helpful as it would be, you don't need the support of anyone to write — except yourself.
This is your journey. You've chosen the destination and the road is yours to travel — solo. It's unfair, not to mention unreasonable, to expect others to traipse along happily in your footsteps, especially when you're entering unknown territory.
Your decision to write has a consequence; something in your life will change as a result of your actions. That means something will change in the lives of those around you. And change, as much vaunted as it is, is not always welcomed. It's too darn scary.
So be it.
The Freelance Writer
In medieval days, knights were mercenaries, lending themselves out to feudal lords who needed help in fighting battles. The knights picked up their lances and trotted off into an uncertain future. Hence the term "free lance."
Not much has changed for today's freelance writers. Together, we pick up our lances (pens) and head off to battle, not just against agents and publishers but fears of rejection.
We don't know what lies before us, or even if we'll get paid (something knights didn't have to worry about). Still we persevere. Which proves a well-established fact — we're nuts.
Pounding Against the Heart
There comes a point in an idea's life when it begins to pound against the walls of the heart. It seeks release, physical expression, be it by pen or keyboard.
Words give it shape and substance, yes, but cannot explain where it comes from or why, like a salmon crashing into rapids and rocks, it must get where it's going. No matter what, no matter how.
Why Words Matter
Words are words—anyone can get them onto paper. Why then should our words matter?
Because they are ours. They are born of our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. They make their way into the world through our distinct filters. They have no other door by which to enter.
Join the Club
Don't have enough time to write? Join the club. No one has enough time to do all they want in life. Accept it and move on. It's a non-issue.
Time, like life, is what you make it. Short of seconds, there's practically no unit of time that can't be put to good use. Even if you write for just 10 minutes a day, you're writing 70 minutes a week. Seventy minutes may not seem like much, but it's a hell of a lot more than nothing; accumulated over a month, it's nearly five hours, which is not an insubstantial amount of time.
Surely you have 10 minutes a day to spare, maybe even an hour or two every other day or so. Find it. Use it.
Don’t Be Original
Original thinkers that we are, we have certain preconceived notions of what it takes to write a book and how the writing itself should unfold. These notions, or myths, don’t serve us well. In fact, they get in our way. That’s because they attach all sorts of bells and whistles to the writing process, making it seem more complicated than it is and making us feel lacking in talent, courage, and discipline. What a crock, and what a trap—one we set for ourselves.
And so our first order of business is to spring loose of the trap by identifying the writing myths we’ve come to live and write by. Then and only then can we begin to move ourselves and our books forward.
Be a Good Conversationalist
If you're going to talk to yourself, at least be a good conversationalist.
A good conversationalist engages the mind with interesting, challenging questions, insightful observations, well-articulated dreams. A good conversationalist doesn't demean or bemoan, or plant seeds of doubt that grow into giant beanstalks.
What kinds of conversations are you having with yourself? Do they invigorate or enervate? Do they inspire you to pick up your pen or to drop your creativity?
Deadlines scare you? If so, it's likely that you're focusing on all you must do to meet them.
Try shifting your sights. Choose a date on your calendar just beyond the deadline date. For example, if you have a monthly deadline of the 15th, circle the 16th or even the 20th.
Think about how great you'll feel on that day—work turned in, papers filed, invoice in the mail. Think about the great lunch you've prearranged with a friend ... the new CD you'll give yourself as a reward ... the lazy morning you'll have, coffee mug in hand, favorite book in lap.
Remember how, in just a few short days or weeks, the pressures you now feel will dissipate. With no more to write, you can fully enjoy the delicious sense of having written.
Negativity, like a cold, is contagious. Smart writers limit their exposure.
They don't read negative news stories if it makes them think less of others or fear moving through the world. They don't revisit scenes of past failures to confirm their worst fears. They don't hang out with negative individuals who sap their energies and challenge their dreams.
Instead, they reach for anything and everything that will boost their confidence and skills. They seek out friendly faces and big hearts. They find in life clues and gifts that help them better understand the depth of their stories and the means to tell them.
Meet Your Fate
A pox upon interruptions!
Just when we think we have squirreled away time to write, they descend. Doors knock, telemarketers call, kids get sick. We moan, groan and curse the gods. What did we do to deserve such a fate?
Who knows? But even if we did, it would be besides the point. We must find the time to write ... then find it again.
Get Your ZZZZZs
For many of us, sleep is our only downtime. Even then, we don't get enough. This can have a detrimental affect on our writing: We're simply too tired to write with much enthusiasm—or to write at all.
We need to take better care of ourselves and our projects. One way to do this is by going to bed an hour or so early once or twice a week.
Think of this extra snooze period as a way to stretch your writing muscles before you get down to the business of creating. Doing so puts your body and mind on notice that they'll be called on shortly and are expected to serve you with vim and vigor.
Need writing guidance? Pick up a book. Don't get lost in it, however. Study it, for books are among the best writing instructors you'll ever find.
Round up several of your favorite novels, for example, and study how their respective authors open and close their works, introduce major and minor characters, make use of dialects, settings, etc.
Study how nonfiction writers introduce complex concepts or controversial issues, use quotations and citations, organize their chapters, resources, and the like.
Borrow from the best and create hybrids from the rest, adding your special take and unique elements to your project.
Read, enjoy, study, play.
Talk to Yourself
When the words won't come, try talking to yourself.
Verbalizing your thoughts makes them tangible, real. Like lumps of clay, they become the three-dimensional material from which you fashion your article's opening and transitional paragraphs, or your novel's scenes, characters and dialogue.
Voice whatever comes to mind and heart. Ask yourself questions, then listen carefully to the answers. Pay close attention to the words that surface most quickly. Often, they reveal what you are blocking and why, and, more importantly, ways you can move forward at last.
(For help in using positive self-talk, go to Beth's site http://www.ArtofSchmooze.com.)
Find Your Prime Time
Some of us are evening writers. We get our best ideas when the moon rises and the world settles down for the night. With the day behind us, our bodies relax and our ideas flow.
Some of us are morning writers. We're up before dawn, minds buzzing, even without coffee. Whole scenes come to us; characters reveal their motivations; we're on a roll.
When are you most apt to hit your creative stride? Midday? Late afternoon? Just before lunch? It's important to take note, but even more important to act on this knowledge. Writing, after all, takes energy, so why not do it when your energy is at its peak—when you're most alive, alert and motivated?
Pinpoint the Benefits
You can read any book you want on time management (and there are literally hundreds), but the fact remains that you will have trouble making time for your writing project, whatever it may be, if there isn't some payoff in it for you.
Therefore, one of the first things you should do is list all of your project's benefits. The longer the list, the more compelling the project becomes. The more compelling it becomes, the more likely you will find time to start and complete it.
Nearly every form of writing has its conventions. Novels, articles, columns, and the like follow general "rules," be it in style, content, or formatting. This can be a good thing for two reasons:
First, conventions help narrow our possibilities. That's a real plus, for as writers, we often drive ourselves crazy trying to decide which, countless ways, to take our work.
Second, conventions force us to learn, even internalize, key rules of style, grammar, presentation, flow, etc. Once learned, these conventions allow us to rebel—with confidence. They provide a solid to jumping off point to worlds unknown.
So let conventions work for—rather than against—you. You may well find your writing benefiting as a result.
Follow the Leader
If you're not a serious writer, don't expect others to take you seriously.
Respect from others begins with self-respect. You must set the ground rules that they—and you—will follow.
Feeling blocked? Instead of rolling up your sleeves, gritting your teeth and gearing up for battle, put your energy elsewhere.
Go for a walk. Curl up with a book. Catch a movie with a friend. Give your writing a rest. It can work wonders.
That's because blocks are effective only when they have something to block. If you refuse to be hampered by them and turn instead toward what's easy, even fun, they lose their power.
Performing Your Final Nips and Tucks
All works need revision—that final nip and tuck, spit and polish that can make your writing sing. Before you begin the process (or start procrastinating) keep the following in mind:
Revision begins with re-vision, a stepping back to assess if what you've written is what you intended to write. Almost always there will be something you will want or need to change. Welcome the opportunity, for it gives you a second chance to achieve your goals.
Beth Mende Conny is the founder and president of WriteDirections.com. She has published more than four dozen books and collections, and helps individuals and businesses bring their projects to publication. She can be contacted at Beth@WriteDirections.com.