On dark and blocked days, I question why I write. A lot of unwholesome reasons surface, that seem wholly justified at these depressive times, why I shouldn’t write. Here are four of my most dismal statements, and they may mirror yours. But I’ve managed to find remedies for each that tackle my gloom at its source.
The first dreary statement: “I have nothing to say.”
How many times have I thought or felt this! But after righting myself a little, with the help of chocolate cupcakes, I’ve learned how to respond.
- First, attack this declaration head-on. Even if you feel like the worst fool, get to your writing area. Commit to a block of time to write (fifteen minutes counts) and, if you must, just sit there. If you must again, fidget, Web surf, or muffin-stuff.
After a while, as I do, you’ll get tired of these stalls and your “nothing to say” will turn. Your hand will automatically pick up the pen, your fingers will irrepressibly turn to the keys. Even if you brand what comes forth as inane, stupid, ridiculous, cliché, or copied from your favorite author, keep going.
- Second, realize that we all have garbage trucks full of the writing we label as horrid. Just accept it and, later, drive it to your virtual dump.
- Third, maybe to your surprise, notice the fruition. From that trash heap, and often as a byproduct, your “nothing to say” will blossom, a bud in the dung. The tiny flower will take shape as an idea, a sentence, then two, and then an astounding metaphor, image, memory, face, phrase. You’ll have the beginnings of a story, poem, novel . . .
That’s one reason Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” (in The Artist’s Way, pp. 9-18) are so valuable. Even if you have to start with “I have nothing to say,” repeat it as many times as you need to (she gives permission to intone). After a while, just sitting there, you’ll find you indeed do have something to say.
To illustrate, a writing friend generously shared one of her “Morning Pages” entries:
I have nothing to say. I have nothing to say. Nothing to say. No damn thing to say.
Makes me so mad. Why can’t I write? Others do, badly, and get published and with less to say than I do. [Notice she already contradicted her de-affirmation that she had nothing to say.]
My father’s voice when I announced, timidly, I wanted to be a writer: “Ha! How can you make a living? What do you have to say?”
The bastard. How did he know? He had nothing to say—always wanted to be an architect, like Frank Lloyd Wright. Piled the living room coffee table high with glossy glorious photo books of Wright houses, Philip Johnson landmarks, and I. M. Pei structures soaring to the sky.
But my father married young, probably too young, and had a family too soon to support. So, he settled. Became a crafter of prisons and prison-like schools, lockstep gray-white block buildings with windows rationed like war-zone food. Blasphemy to call those cement-propagating blemishes architecture.
When my friend showed me this, I couldn’t contain my excitement. “You have the makings of a memoir!”
The second bleak statement: “I’ll never make the grade.”
An aspiring writer friend, Grant, wrote me recently, “I haven’t taken writing seriously so far, even though I’ve always wanted to do it, mainly because I know I don’t make the grade.”
I wrote Grant immediately (giving myself the same message): How do you know if you don’t go for it? If you feel like you’re worse than other writers, read a few blogs. Many are excellent, some are good, and some are—well, charitably—less so. Can you do as well, or surpass them? I bet you’re answering Yes!
Even better, don’t read anything. Sometimes when I read excerpts from stellar essayists or novelists, I too plummet and groan, “I’ll never make the grade.” And get fully paralyzed. So, contrary to much advice for writers, for a while turn away from all reading and concentrate on producing your own words. They’re there.
The third dejected statement: “I’ll never get published.”
Maybe, and maybe not. If you keep sending out your pieces, eventually you will get published. Before selling a single short story, William Saroyan methodically sent his stories to every fiction editor in paying magazines. All rejected. So, he started again at the top of the list—and scored (Denny). The watchwords: persistence, patience, perseverance.If you keep sending out your pieces, eventually you will get published Click To Tweet
Author and writing career coach, Christina Katz, gives great advice:
Stop waiting for big success and aim for a series of small successes instead. Many writers are waiting to hit the mother lode, so to speak, of writing success. But success lies in taking aim at targets you are likely to actually hit and then hitting them one after the other. That’s how experience is gained in an otherwise complex and mysterious profession (Katz,2008).
The fourth statement that guarantees depression: “No one will read it.”
My friend Grant worried a lot about this: “The subjects that interest me are a tiny pocket. So, even if I write, how many people would read my stuff anyway?”
After complimenting him on his evocative “tiny pocket,” I told him, and say the same to all of us, “You don’t know at all that no one will read your work. Do you realize how stuffed the Internet is with subjects, from the common to the unnervingly esoteric? As with partners, there’s a reader match for every topic and approach.”
What Can We Learn From These Debilitating Statements?
Our first and only responsibility is to do what feels good and right. If you have the desire, itch, pull, push to write, then you are meant to write. Do it.
Remember, too, a truth contradicts that “no-one-will-read-it” assumption. Whatever your subject, the more you are true to yourself, the more you will connect with others. Even if you think no one’s interested in what you write about, do it anyway.
The more you write, the better you’ll get. The deeper you go inside, the more honest you will be in your writing, and the more other people will read and find personal meaning in your words.The more you write, the better you’ll get. The deeper you go inside, the more honest you will be in your writing, and the more other people will read and find personal meaning in your words. Click To Tweet
In some ways, your job is to write for others. Why are love songs so popular? Because they say what so many people feel and cannot express. Same with writing. How often have you read something and shouted inside, “Yes! That’s just how I feel!”?
Or, “I’m surprised someone else is writing about this. It’s just what I’ve been thinking!”
So, the question arises:
The answer lies in combating all those negatives above and responding to other important questions:
- Do you crave and yearn to write?
- Do you feel “unfinished” if you don’t?
- No matter how many products you sold, bills you paid, laundry loads you washed and folded, piston rings you replaced, boards you nailed, do you feel the day has been wasted if you haven’t written?
- Do you feel you’re betraying yourself when you don’t write?
- Do you peer into your future years and know you’ll regret not writing?
Author Joan Frank published a wonderful book of essays on writing whose title unmistakably answers our writing-doubt questions: Because You Have To: A Writing Life. All the reasons we give ourselves for not writing, or for quitting, that seem so sound are really self-indulgent and self-pitying. Sure, feel one or two for a minute but realize, as spiritual teacher Louise Hay says, it’s “just a thought” (You Can Heal Your Life, p. 5).
The destructive thoughts can be changed any moment you choose. Instead, realize that you have to; you are meant to write. To ignore or deny that desire only harms you, and denial will eventually manifest as illness, hopelessness, depression, despair.
When I asked my friend Grant the questions above, and he answered them, he said, his face lighting up, “Life is telling me to write.” Like Grant, past the struggles, self-doubts, and momentary dejections, you’ll know, too, that your life is telling you to write. You’ll find yourself sitting there, maybe sometimes squirming, and eventually producing the pieces that knock inside for expression. And you’ll know how to handle those dispiriting statements, to yield to the joy of creating, and to remember why you write.
© 2018 Noelle Sterne
From Dr. Sterne:
A little news: The Textbook and Academic Authors Association (a mouthful, TAA), for whom I write a monthly academic-writing-oriented post, invited me to give a webinar for their summer “Writing Gym.” I will be delivering “Get Started, Continue Your Draft, and Finish! “ TAA Writing Gym Writing Classes Believe it is open to members, but grad students may be interested in joining. Yearly membership $25. A great site, with lotsa free stuff.
Author, editor, writing coach, writing workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and short stories. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. Academic editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers. Her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) further aids doctoral candidates to award of their degrees. As part of pursuing her writing Dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach their own and create the lives they truly desire.
Author, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. Unity Books, 2011.
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