owl in winter

owl in winter

Friday, November 6, 2009

A year or so ago, I wrote a piece for our Springfield Writer's Guild monthly newsletter, the Free Lancer, on "Getting Your Joy Back." Encouragement is something a writer craves. We all want to be validated as writers, of course. Sadly, we also can become discouraged and empty. So, I was looking for my draft of this article the other day wanting to share it with you, and I finally found it. As I was working through it again, I realized it was getting longer and longer and longer and well, I hope you don't feel provoked to glance away every so often wondering, "when will this woman shut up?"
Here it is. For you, the one in need, I hope you it nourishes you.

You are a writer. You used to rush to your computer or your notebook with such joy, such anticipation, ready to write the words that would set the world on fire and now, you procrastinate, you pause. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’ll get back at it when this is done or that is finished or, when you get the time.
That zing! feeling is not there anymore. The words do not come easily or at all, and you would just rather go cut grass than sit down one more time and try to write something. You take a deep breath and consider that pile of laundry waiting for you and then, you go work on that instead of your writing.
You have lost your joy.
The diagnosis is easy but, what to do about it? You are still a writer and the dream is still there. The words remain huddled under sheets in the corners of your mind behind the grocery list and the “to-do” list. How to get them out? How to shake off that cloak, that suffocating wool blanket of burn-out and get the fountain flowing again?

The world pulls on us. It moves so quickly these days. We have the so much to do, so little time syndrome. We become exhausted; we may lose faith in ourselves, the business, our lives.
So, quiet yourself now and think back to that defining moment when you first knew you wanted to write. Remember how wildly exciting it was? What was happening? Where were you in your life? What did you imagine a writing career would be like?
Here’s the thing.
Your only job is to show up. Someone said once, “Do what is yours to do today.” Do not put yourself under the pressure to succeed, to be a “real writer;” just immerse yourself in the story and characters you are creating. Give them a voice and let them speak to you.
Do not judge what you write, just write it. Do not worry about “the rules.” That will come later. Do not show your baby too soon. Be a little protective at first. Your work is like a beautiful soufflĂ© rising in the oven and then, one opens the over door a little too soon and it falls flat.
Be a mid-wife to your friends’ books. Cheer them on, read with them. Believe in your own brilliance.

But do the writing. Writing begets writing.

Here is something else to consider. What are the stories you tell yourself? What are the stumbling blocks you put in your road? Because, like it or not, that is what we do. You say, “I’d like to be a writer but …” What are your stumbling blocks? Once you identify those, you have taken the first step to getting back in the business of writing and you are also ready to think about discipline.

There is discipline in writing. I do not believe one can expect the Muse to show up and light the way to success if one is not willing to do the work. This statement is pragmatic at best, I suppose and maybe not all that profound but I believe it to be true. It may be helpful to schedule yourself writing increments. Maybe twenty minutes a day to begin before you pull up the internet, before your read your email, check your horoscope, or before you turn on the television. Write before the distractions start. You can increase the increment later on. Once you implement this strategy, I think you will find that the words flow much more easily, new ideas spring up (you will be surprised), and you’ll feel that blood pounding certainty once again that you were born to write.
You tell the stories you tell because you want to amuse people, entice people, create an escape or a sanctuary. I was asked recently, “Why do you write?” Now, I’m coming from the standpoint of writing fiction. You may write something else and so your response will undoubtedly be different. However, my response was that I want the busy, harried female executive who’s getting on a plane for a long business trip to be able to slow down for a little while by entering into the world of one of my stories. There is a young, suburban mother somewhere who wants a retreat for an hour or two while her baby sleeps. Whatever the greater power is, there is some greater power that’s instigated this drive to drop words out on paper and not because I think I’m all that and a bag of chips. I think of it as a gift to a disjointed world, which has been put into my hands to do.

Someone once told me: you do not have to be the judge to your work; you just have to be the conduit. What a wise woman! This is freeing in so many ways. It allows you to let go of the end result and concentrate on the immediate work. It allows you to make this page, or this chapter, or this paragraph the best it can be.

One last thing. What are your goals as a writer? Think about what they were at the beginning of your work and what they are now. Believe in great things for yourself. Others have done it, why not you? Perfect your craft, polish your work.
So, now you go and begin at the beginning. What was it like when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Identify your stumbling blocks then discard them. Permit, or order, yourself twenty minutes a day to write. Put the distractions out. Think about why you do what you do. Remember your goals. And then let go and allow the words to flow onto paper.
Let me know how it goes.

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