Writing is slightly terrifying. For one thing, you are spending time with what seems like nothing to show for it. One of the reasons I love DIY projects is because it’s the one area of my life where my time takes form and becomes visible. That tangible quality to the finished product makes work easier. Not more valuable, just easier.
Besides being invisible, writing is difficult—we’re all 100% mentally lazy. When you sit down to do intellectual work, you hear this voice, saying, “Why push so hard?” “Wouldn’t it be easier if…” and then you have a mess on your hands because everything else you should be doing starts distracting you. Clip your nails. Clean your desk. It’s the writer’s joke.
But writing is more than terrifying; it’s also rewarding. It’s as rewarding as it is terrifying—more so. The joy outweighs it. If you don’t know the joy of writing, the joy of the life of the mind, then you probably aren’t still reading this. I don’t have to tell you anything here.
But if you let it go, it’s hard to get it back. It’s like going to the gym after a long break. You feel weak, you know everyone sees you’re out of shape, and you feel judged. What do you do? You put your headphones on and block out the haters. The problem with writing is that you’re inside your head, and the haters are there with you. You have to reacquaint yourself with the schizophrenia of thinking.
“You’re wasting time.”
“No I’m not, this is rewarding, important, and very help…”
“You’re bad at it.”
“That’s not what my mom says…”
So now you have to start over.
It’s not a waste of time; it’s good. Spending time reading and writing may not produce a table and chairs, an enclosed porch, or a paycheck, but it will enrich your soul—and potentially enrich other souls too.
So what do you do to kick start all of this? I know because I just went through this. You need two things: discipline, and motivation. Discipline because the writing will come only if you do it over and over and over again. Motivation because the discipline is only as strong as your purpose.
YouTube talks by writers.1 Browse the Paris Review and read their really long and detailed interviews. Read books about art in general, not the nasty how-to books on writing—those won’t help this process in the least.2
Go get your motivation. Stand up your discipline, dust him off, and say, Come on you sorry good-for-nothing lilly-livered sap-sucker, let’s get to work. And just do it.
PS. For heaven’s sakes, get you a man-cave. Or a lady-cave, and protect that space from distractions. Sit still, listen, and dig deep. There’s water in that well, I promise.
- Anne Lamott is a magnetic writer, and while I don’t agree with all of her philosophies, this TED talk is money. Here are tips from Stephen King. Another great TED talk on story-telling. And this one on how writing is magic. I could go on… ↩︎
- Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, The Christian Imagination by the Rykens, The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers…again, I could go on. Another really cool one is The Creative Habit by the dancer Twyla Tharp. ↩︎