1. Writer’s block doesn’t exist.
That block you feel? It’s just stage fright. Whether we’re writing fiction or memoir, we’re exposing our most hidden, vulnerable selves.
Which makes writing in and of itself an act of courage.
The fear of how others will judge what we’ve written – judge us – is part of the deal. It’s also what can keep us playing it safe. This is the most insidious form of self censorship. The more we let go of our attachment to what other people are going to think about what we write, the more we give permission for our voice to emerge and deepen.
2. Writers will do anything to avoid writing.
Writing is hard. Writing something worth reading, harder. As soon as we hit a snag, or can’t translate what’s in our head into something coherent, captivating or beautiful, we feel discomfort. So what do we do to resist that discomfort? We organize the papers on our desk. Stack the dishwasher. We hop on Facebook or refresh our email. Before we know it, we’ve lost an hour down the social media rabbit hole.
Resistance. That resistance is your greatest opportunity to get closer to the story you want to tell. That resistance is telling you precisely where you need to push through, to reach for something that you haven’t until now, been able to reach. The only way to get unstuck is to figure out a way through. It’s in those moments when you get stuck that you’re on the brink of a breakthrough.
3. Writing requires purity of attention.
It’s not about the quantity of hours, it’s the quality of time spent. You need blocks of focused time to birth your best work. Morning is the best time to devote to writing. It’s when we’re most receptive and alert. And for most of us, it’s when we have the most control over the quality of mind we can bring to the page. Your best work demands that you protect your creative space. It’s okay to tell your kids or your spouse that you’re going to shut the door and write for an hour or two.
4. “The essence of creativity is fucking around.”
~ Neil Strauss
Approach your work with a sense of play, experimentation and, above all, curiosity. Give yourself permission to fail, to write the most boring, banal, shallow dreck. It’s only through rewriting that you’ll see where it needs more life, where you need to fill in gaps with the techniques that help you align your work with your highest vision, what Ira Glass calls “your good taste.” This how your voice will emerge. From letting go, and to a certain extent, losing control.
5. Writing is rewriting.
Our first drafts are often heady, intoxicating rushes of inspiration. Follow that. Write where the energy is and ride the emotional momentum to its end. The 1st draft is only for you. It’s where you write uncensored with no need for it to be anything other than an exploration of what you have to say. Let go of this idea that it has to be brilliant right out of the gate. The first draft is chaotic. A sprawling mess. Somewhere in that mess is your story.
That first draft will need carving, cutting, and shaping before it becomes a story that readers can receive and be moved by. This is where the real work and joy of writing begins.
6. The story has a life of its own.
And it’s smarter than you. Writing is largely an unconscious process. It comes from the place where we dream. Your job is to listen to what your story is telling you about what it wants to be. Say receptive to what’s made it onto the page. Sometimes you have to allow the story to become something else. And it will most likely be something entirely different than what you set out to write. Forget about “Write what you know.” It’s one of the most overused and poorly misunderstood writing mantras out there. Writing what you know is not just about surface events or experiences you’ve had. It’s what you believe to be true and valuable about the world.
7. Your story matters.
You have your very own IT factor. Something within the you of you is unique from every single other human being. You are the sum total of all your experiences, your memories, your impressions. The way you see the world and the way you project it onto the page is yours and yours alone. Your job is to discover and develop your uniqueness and, above all, to share it.