If you’re a writer, you write. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. You can be the worst writer in the world, spewing drivel onto the page every day, but if you do it every day, eventually it will cease being drivel, or at least evolve into drivel of a finer sort. This happens automatically, because if you write you always improve. Alas, the opposite is also true. If you don’t write, you definitely won’t improve.
So that would seem to leave us with a pretty clear choice, wouldn’t it? Write, and improve; or don’t write, and don’t improve.
Why is it not that simple?
Because the forces of evil are arrayed against the desire to write. And the biggest evil of all is the need to be good. Burdened by the unrealistic expectation of all quality all the time, we often find that we just can’t write at all.
But in the practice of writing, quality is not the major concern. In the practice of writing, the only thing that matters is putting words on the page. In the practice of writing, the only fear is the fear of giving up the practice. In the practice of writing there is joy, because the practice of the practice is a goal you can achieve, and a triumph you can relish, every single day.
So how does one practice practice? How can we constantly be closing the gap between the writer’s life we have and the writer’s life we want? Here are some strategies and tactics you can try:
- PRACTICE PATIENCE. Some days you get a ton done. Some days you don’t. You’ll tolerate the bad days better if you just let yourself off the hook. Stress and pressure are not conducive to good writing practice, so go easy on yourself. Life is long. You do have time.
- PRACTICE IMPATIENCE. If yesterday was a slack day, make damn sure that today isn’t. Yes, it’s okay to blow off work, but not every day, not if you’re serious about your craft. Let yourself off the hook, sure, but put yourself back on it, too. Demand your own active participation in your active practice of writing.
- SET APPROPRIATE GOALS. Don’t imagine that you’re going to write a whole script before breakfast. Do imagine that you’re going to do a reasonable amount of work in a reasonable amount of time. Inappropriately large goals kill will and crush productivity. Appropriately sized goals, on the other hand, offer the immediate reward of a job, well, done.
- SHOW YOUR WORK. Be fearless in this. Recognize that rejection is a natural part of the practice of writing. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it. The alternative is a trunk full of stuff that no one sees till you’re dead. And then no one sees ever, because who, really, wants to wade through the stuff in your trunk?
- SERVE THE WORK. When you’re getting feedback, be it positive or negative, try to think less about how that feedback makes you feel and more about how you can use it to improve the work. Be humble in service of the work. Save your ego for the award ceremony.
- KEEP GIVING THEM YOU UNTIL YOU IS WHAT THEY WANT. The best part of your writing is the part that’s unique to you. Your stories. Your style. Your sensibilities. Your themes. Your way with words. Keep giving them you, even if they keep rejecting you. Eventually – I can’t say when and I can’t promise soon – your quality will convince them that you is what they want.
- SEIZE YOUR SPACE AND TIME AND TOOLS. It’s difficult to have an effective practice of writing in an ineffective space. Do you have a quiet place to work, equipped with decent writing tools? If not, make it a priority to acquire these things. Also make your writing time a priority. Carve it out of your day, guard it jealously and don’t let anyone – especially you – take it away from you.
- LET YOUR LIFE RISE. The practice of writing is one of deep psychological intrusion. In becoming the writer you wish to be, you naturally undergo major transformations in terms of the person you are. Let these changes take place. As you gather awareness, you improve as a writer; as you improve as a writer, you gather awareness. Let your life rise and your writing will follow; let your writing rise, and your life will follow too.
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR GIFT. You became a writer because you had something to say. Own and cherish that something. Keep your heart where everyone can see it. The more actively and openly you promote your vision, the clearer that vision will become, to you and to others. And when that happens, your passion will overcome all fears.
Writing isn’t easy, but it really isn’t hard. You put a word on the page, then another and another (and another and another) and soon you have some words on the page. You struggle to encode your thoughts in language, and soon you find that you’ve encoded effectively; your words are understood. You try to grasp deeper meaning with elegance and power, and by degrees you learn how to do so. With time, with patience, with effort, the practice of writing emerges from the desire to write. Over time, after much effort, the practice of writing becomes second nature, as much a part of your life as breathing. It’s not just a goal you can achieve, it’s one you certainly will achieve, if you only keep writing.
One final thought: Remember how blessed you are to have the sort of problems a writer has. This is a luxury that almost no one gets to enjoy in this busy blue world.