By: Noelle Sterne
(Note: Despite the possible sexism of this title, today, people of all genders wear earrings, and the metaphoric principle applies to all of us.)
“If I waited for a proper occasion to get dressed up I’d never wear half of these clothes. Put on the clothes and you make things happen to match them. It doesn’t work the other way around.” ―
Do You Take Your Writing for Granted?
You might take your writing for granted if it’s squeezed in after the kids, shopping, car repairs, and “real work”. If so, you’re missing great support that can help you write more and take it more seriously. Your writing deserves more—more attention, more respect.
I learned this lesson from a friend.
Lynn was always game to go out for coffee, and we had an unwritten pact that we’d go out when either of us felt the irresistible urge. This time, though, when I called and asked her to go out, I was surprised at her response:
“Can’t. I’m writing.”
The following week, when Lynn agreed to take a break, we met for lunch. She apologized for her earlier brusqueness and added, “I realized I wasn’t taking my writing like a job. It was something haphazard, like throwing on my old wrinkled plaid shirt.”
I asked, “What made you realize that?”
“A few days before, at work, I had to go to the six-month meeting with the company president. I got dressed up like everyone does. And I noticed how good I felt in my suit. So I started thinking about what I wore to write.”
At my quizzical look, she continued, “I stagger to my desk, eyes barely open, hair uncombed, groping for my best friend—my oldest, cuddliest sweats.”
I laughed, pleading guilty as well.
“Maybe others can write well this way,” she said, “but that meeting day made me realize I was dishonoring my writing self. Now when I get ready for my writing session, I find clean clothes that look halfway respectable, even sometimes matching them. And I put my earrings on!”
“Do you really feel different?” I asked.
“Absolutely! I walk straighter and taller. Ideas start coming even before I sit down, and I feel, well, like a real writer.”
We All Do It
Writers write in jeans, jumpsuits, t-shirts, underwear, and birthday suits. Many say their juices can only bubble in the most casual and comfortable clothing. This may be true, but often such clothes are so casual and comfortable (read: sloppy) that we avoid writing altogether.
I must stop here to admit to full dis-clothes-ure: I’m writing this not in total beloved sloppiness but my semi-shabby t-shirt, semi-loose jeans, and with my informal earrings on.
For this piece, I felt the need to counteract the bedragglement with a little more structure. Nevertheless, I well know how delicious it can be to tumble from bed to desk in a sleep sweatshirt or your favorite raggy bathrobe. You feel like you’ve joined the venerable company of writers who’ve made it. But with sleep-mouth and sandy eyes, you often can’t do your best work.
It’s true, you can, like some, close a multimillion-dollar book deal in holey jersey and jeans, and you can succeed at a job interview without wearing a designer suit. If you’re on your fourth novel, and you wrote the other three in your snuggly pj’s or lucky drooping-pockets fishing shorts, you may be reluctant to change your costume.
Do Clothes Make the Writer?
Of course, clothes don’t make the writer. But consider this: when you wear certain clothes, you’re giving yourself a specific message. What are you saying about yourself and your writing when you plunk down at the desk in an old robe, yesterday’s underwear, hair disheveled, and fuzzy teeth?
Cleaning up and dressing well is important not from the standpoint of visitors, trendiness, vanity, or piled-up laundry, but because of the positive effects on you. Choosing to wash for the day and wear better clothes symbolizes a major principle of success. You’re acting “as if.” When we “act as if” we’re professional writers, the actuality will follow.
You don’t have to wear something stiff, uncomfortable, or ultra-formal. But better dressing, as Lynn discovered, does make a difference.
Dressing for writing is all the more important during the recent (and unfortunately ongoing) COVID-19 pandemic. Having to sequester at home, we may find it too easy never to change from our bedtime clothes.
- Who is going to see me?
- Where is there to go?
- What does it matter?
But it does matter—to our state of mind.
I read recently that the actress Helen Mirren did one thing religiously during the pandemic: She always put on makeup. With a similar outlook, a current Instagram site is called @quarantinechic. A long article by Patricia Marx in The New Yorker documented the “unrepentant sloppiness” of many.” But Marx also noted the other side, attesting to the value of metaphorically putting on your earrings. A Washington, DC, rabbi said, “When I’m in a really bad mood, I’ll make myself put on real clothes, and it does actually work. . . . I even put on a belt yesterday.”
You can start from the inside or the outside.
1. Inside: Do the mental work first—positive self-talk, inspirational readings, visualization, meditation, prayer. These can motivate you to get up, go to the closet, and get dressed to write.
2. Outside: Start with action first. Clean up and dress well.
Beginning with the outside is often easier. Business consultant David Allen observes, “It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than to feel yourself into a better way of action.” Psychologist and spiritual guru Wayne Dyer encourages us to “begin acting as if what you would like to become is already your reality. This is a wonderful way to set into motion the forces that will collaborate with you to make your dreams come true.”
This principle is also inherent in the time-honored career counseling advice to dress cleanly, neatly, and well. In the 1970s, John Molloy’s (1975) Dress for Success became gospel for advancement in the business world. While meant for those seeking an outside “job,” it also offers writers a valuable perspective. What is the job we want? A consistent, easy stream of writing. What is our level of unemployment? The degree to which our blocks and stalling interfere with our actual “job” of writing. How do we define the organization? Our writing “business” and our mission and drive to write.
As Lynn and the rabbi experienced, when you put on clean, somewhat professional clothes you look and feel good in, you’re plentifully rewarded:
- You feel better.
- Your self-image rises a few notches.
- Your posture, mood, and outlook improve.
- You feel more ready for the day and the tasks before you.
- You take yourself and what you’re about to do more seriously.
And dressing better becomes part of your writing ritual. I know the ritual works. For years, despite the never-waning drive, writing was always at the bottom of my list, after all the daily chores and pleasures. That’s why I had the “time” to dash out with Lynn for sugar and caffeine. When I did write, it was last-ditch—in my torn bathrobe or the baggy Bermudas.
But when I decided to follow Lynn’s example and prepared for my writing session with real, even matching clothes—and earrings, and a little makeup—I felt transformed. I strode to my desk with zeal and determination, ready for professional production. The writing went easier and the editing quicker. New ideas surged more freely, and I felt in command.
The Deeper Implications
Beneath all these advantages, there’s a more profound aspect to getting dressed to write. It goes to the heart of our creative process and sense of deservingness. The principle is also embodied in a metaphoric Biblical New Testament verse: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Luke 12:35).
In addition to its literal meaning, “Be dressed for action” tells you to make yourself ready to act on and from:
- The ideas that have been brewing in your subconscious
- Your inner direction
Light Those Lamps!
And are we keeping our lamps lit? A more graphic metaphor for readiness in all ways. We know when our lamps aren’t lit. Our dark inner tormentors keep telling us we have no time to write, we have to “catch up” with everything else first, and a few minutes of writing will do nothing for us.
But when you keep your lamps lit, you experience:
- Your mind focused on the light instead of the dark
- Your inner light focused on your goals and projects
- The light of confidence and positive anticipation.
So, be ready for action and have your lamps lit. Set out your clothes for immediate action. Plan what you’re going to work on in the next session and set out your materials. Get dressed for your job with earrings (or your personal equivalent).
Now, please excuse me. It’s time to work on my book, and I must exchange my semi-scruffy t-shirt and semi-sagging jeans for a trimmer outfit and go put my fancier earrings on.
Bio: Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing and meditation workshop leader, spiritual counselor, and gentle nag, Noelle has published over 700 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, short stories, and occasional poems.
Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul (sixth story forthcoming November 2021),Inspire Me Today, Life and Everything After, LiveWriteThrive, MindBodySpirit, Journal of Expressive Writing, Mused, Pen and Prosper, Romance Writers Report, Ruminate, Sasee, Textbook and Academic Authors Association blog (monthly), Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Coaching (bimonthly), Two Drops of Ink blog, Unity Daily Word, Unity Magazine, WE Magazine for Women, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writing and Wellness, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.
She also contributes pieces to other national and international publications on dissertation issues and writing. In July and August 2018, she, was one of six webinar presenters for its “Writing Gym.” Her topic: “Get Started, Continue Your Draft, and Finish”, which continues to be offered.
Taking her own advice (hard as it may be), she is completing her third novel.
- Website: www.trustyourlifenow.com
- Columnist: Textbook and Academic Authors Association
- Columnist: Two Drops of Ink
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