‘Tis better to have written…

Absolute Blank

By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

“The first key to writing is to write, not to think.”
—from “Finding Forrester”

I am a banker.

At least that’s the technical term for my 9-to-5 job, working for one of the world’s largest financial institutions. All day long, I sit in a cubicle, just another mindless drone in a Dilbert world.

In my heart, though, I am a writer.

I haven’t been published, save for a few non-paying e-zines. I don’t write for the glory. I certainly don’t write for the money. So why do I write?

The answer is something I borrow from one of my college professors, something that just rang so true that I’ve kept it with me all these years.

I write because I must.

Background Image: Karin Dalziel/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve had stories inside me just bursting to come out. In elementary school, it was being stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean. In junior high, it was a soap opera about my friends’ angst-ridden love lives. And now, everything around me begs to be written down.

I have notebooks filled with ideas, fragments of stories begun in my computer. I have endless first lines and last lines, just waiting for me to sit down and complete them. I have a little notebook in my purse, and I’ve been saying for years that I was going to by a mini tape recorder, to grab onto the thoughts as soon as I have them.

Every now and then I finish something. And this past year, I’ve even managed to submit a few for publication or competition. So far, I’ve gotten nothing but a few nicely worded but stinging rejections.

The problem is that I let myself go for long lapses without writing anything at all. The solution, really, is simple. I need to write—to find whatever time I can, and write.

“But I’m tired,” I whine. “I don’t have time to write.”

I go to work every morning at nine, come home around six and make myself dinner. Some nights I watch a favorite TV show, or hang out with my boyfriend. I clean my room, chat with my roommates, call my mother. Anything but write. In fact, here I sit two days before this article is due, cursing myself for volunteering to write it.

The one thing that comforts me, somewhat, is knowing that I’m not alone. In his book If You Can Talk, You Can Write, Joel Saltzman addresses the problem.

“Strange as it seems, writers love to bitch about writing and they will do anything to avoid it. They’ll check the mail, do the dishes, check the mail again-anything to not have to sit down and actually get to work.”

We all do it. We all make excuses. But the fact of the matter is this: the only way to be a writer is to write. Stephen King wrote his first two novels in the laundry room of his double-wide, after teaching high school English all day. John Grisham wrote A Time to Kill longhand on yellow legal pads during courtroom breaks.

In order to quit whining and start writing, we need to figure out what’s stopping us. I know for me, one of the biggest obstacles is fear; the fear that I won’t be any good. What if I try and I fail at the one thing I’ve always wanted to do? This fear manifests itself as “negative self-talk”. In other words, we convince ourselves that we’re no good before we even get started. If we want to get anywhere, we need to shut off our internal editors long enough to write something.

Another common obstacle, which Saltzman addresses in his book, is the drive to be perfect, to “get it right the first time.” His advice? Insist on not being a perfectionist. Too much focus on getting it perfect results in writing paralysis. No one gets it right the first time. Even award-winning authors have to rewrite.

It’s simple, really. The more we write, the better chance we have of writing something good. In Saltzman’s words, it’s like this:

“Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.
Blah, blah, blah……GOLD!”

Write a whole bunch. Write some more. Then throw out the crap and keep what’s good.

In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he advises us to set aside a place for writing, and to be willing to shut the door and write. Writing is a job, and it needs to be treated that way. As King says, “don’t wait for the muse.” Just keep writing.

Does it take discipline? Patience? Sure it does. Doesn’t anything worth doing? But once we start writing, I believe we’ll find it’s easier to write than to NOT write.

So next time you sit down to write, do these things:

  1. Shut off your “inner editor”
  2. Don’t try to be perfect
  3. WRITE!

Everything else will come with practice.

Now maybe we’ll never be as rich and famous as King or Grisham. Maybe we’ll never win a Pulitzer like Toni Morrison. But at least we’ll have written. And for a writer, having written is the best feeling in the world.

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