“Take out a piece of paper and pen. Just start writing.”
You look at me as if I’m crazy.
“Trust me,” I say. “It’s the only way to begin.”
You start to fidget a bit. Suddenly, the unfolded laundry and dirty dishes become terribly important as you look around for excuses not to write. I know, because I’ve been there.
Why do we avoid writing? It’s the fear. We question ourselves.
What if I can’t do this?
What if I’m not good enough?
Why would anyone give a crap about what I have to say?
This is the baggage that writing carries with it. Heavy, isn’t it? How can you expect to create freely with this load on your back?
Now, I’m going to tell you how to quiet those chattering demons and transform yourself into a writer.
First: Challenge your assumptions.
Too often, we see writing as an act of the tortured soul. It doesn’t have to be like that. Writing can be an act of joy and creativity instead.
As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird: “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” Go out into the world, she encourages us. Travel. Explore. Embrace it all, then come back and tell us all the wondrous things you experienced.
Second: It’s time to write.
Get a pencil and paper or sit down in front of your computer, whichever is most natural. Then you simply begin writing.
There are only two rules, here.
1. Write without stopping. No editing. No judgment. Just keep going.
2. Don’t erase anything. If you want to change what you’re saying, move onto the next line and keep writing.
Set a timer and for 10 minutes, write what’s on your mind. Maybe you’re thinking, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” Write it down. Or maybe you can’t think of anything to say, you feel stuck. Just write that down. There is no pressure for you to say anything in particular. Your only challenge here is to simply write until your timer chimes.
Third: It’s time for a break.
Take some deep breaths. Walk around the block and stretch your legs. Maybe you even want to sleep on it and return the next day. Don’t wait too long, though. If you find yourself avoiding the piece you’ve written, that’s the anxiety returning.
Fourth: Read through what you wrote.
Take a highlighter or pen and mark the areas that grab your attention. The key to this step is to focus on what you like. You’re not editing. You’re not looking to cut or tell yourself it sucks. You practice seeing the good.
And finally, fifth: Commit to writing for 10 minutes every day.
It doesn’t matter what you write. You could flesh out an area that grabs your attention from your first free write. Or maybe you want to start a new free write.
As with all the other steps, we’re shifting the focus. Instead of trying to create something that others want to read, you set a specific and reachable goal for yourself. There is no need to self edit or judge.
When you are writing every day, then you are officially a writer.
You might wonder how you will know if this is working for you.
I know, because this is how I became a writer. I started small, kept practicing and suddenly one day I realized I’d been doing it for a long time. I began to call myself a writer, even though it felt fake at first. I realized, “Hey, I know what I’m doing.” Then I began to publish and be paid for my words.
I know, because I have worked with hundreds of writers over the last two decades. This is the first exercise I do with every single one, and I have watched as each opens up and is amazed at what lovely things she or he has to say.
Here’s the secret: you have to learn to trust yourself.
If you believe you can do it, then you will. If you believe you have something to say, then you do.
The more you write, the more you practice putting aside your fears, the more you show yourself how strong, wonderful and creative you can be. Self doubt begins to erase itself, and slowly but surely you understand that you are capable of doing whatever it is you want to do.
Now, you need only write it down. I’ve already showed you where to start.
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: markus spiske/Flickr