When I was in my 20s and 30s and wanting to be a writer (and yet not quite, um, writing), the only type of writing advice that seemed to come my way was some version of Hemingway’s credo “You must write everyday no matter what.” That advice never helped me or made me write. I couldn’t force myself to write, and the fact that I couldn’t only made me feel worse about myself. On top of being a dilettante who fancied herself a writer when she barely wrote, now I was undisciplined and weak–the writing equivalent of a person who “can’t stay on a diet.”
And yet deep down, I knew writing was the work I needed to do, and so even though I felt like there was something horribly deficient about me, I started showing up places where I could learn from other writers. I saw a handmade sign in a rural Utah grocery store and the next week I was sitting on the floor of a poet’s desert trailer scribbling on a notepad. I heard about a writer’s retreat in the mountains and there I learned about the triptych. I started to write and to write quite a bit–not because I was meeting a daily quota but because it made me happy. I was excited about the work and didn’t want to stop. I rediscovered the joy of creativity I felt as a child making batiks with my grandmother JoJo, that feeling of discovery and mastery that filled me with focus and purpose.
Of course, this sounds like wildly dangerous talk. If we only wrote when it made us “happy” or “excited,” how would one ever complete the enormous task of writing a novel or even complete enough revisions to make an essay publishable? And it’s true, that there’s a lot of showing up come sleet or hail that has to be done eventually, but I find I’m willing to do that once I’m engaged, and I’ve never become engaged telling myself I should or by forcing myself to write. I know the write-x-number-of-words-a-day edict works for many writers and I think that’s terrific. But I find that for many of us, it just doesn’t.
In fact, I find that many of my students are similar to me; they will do the work that’s needed, once they’re engaged. The focus of my upcoming Writing Is My Drink Webinar is teaching writers how to create the conditions that will allow them to write more and to write with greater focus and vision. Because most of us long to get to our real work. We’re not lazy. We just haven’t found the road in yet.