How many times have you thought to yourself, “I can write a book?”
You sit down one day and these words spill from your fingers onto the keyboard and up on your screen or, for you “old school” folks out there, the words spill from your pen onto a piece of paper. You see the plot and the main character. You see scenes, action, and conflict. And for a few exhilarating moments or hours, you are lost in a world of your own creation.
Inevitably, inspiration wanes. You go back the next day, or, perhaps a couple of days go by, but things don’t flow as easily. The words don’t come. You put the budding manuscript away until inspiration strikes again. You forget the words and images until you are wandering through computer files or papers and you find the story again. You read over it. You might still like it, but the feeling, that “love affair” feeling has slipped away into the “I’ll get to it someday” folder.
I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. In fact, I applaud that you took the time to sit down with your creative self for that little bit of time. I want to encourage you to “fall back in love” with your idea and take your affair with words all the way to the altar.
Let’s talk about some of the pitfalls of inspiration. How do you move from inspiration to completed manuscript? Why does the inspiration wane? How do I keep up the momentum? The reasons behind the loss are varied. Let me limit them to a few categories: 1) Confidence; 2) Admiration; 3) Commitment. (Still sounds like love, doesn’t it?)
This is the feeling there is something to say, a story to tell, and you’re the one to do it. You hear the voices (no, you’re not crazy) in your head. You listen to them. You bring them into the outside world. Doing this makes you special, right? Except, except…damn. There are other voices in your head. Voices that say you’re not good enough. The words aren’t right. What makes you think you can write? I know those voices. For me it’s just one voice and it’s my mother’s (Sorry, Mom). Sigh.
For most of us, our parents did a great job of rearing us to be productive citizens, able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. They taught us THE RULES. Be practical. Make friends. Finish your education. Get a job. And for God’s sake, don’t be weird! Writers are weird. Artists are weird. Actors are weird. Musicians are weird. You see it all the time in the news. Not to mention (but I will), you can’t make an actual living doing weird stuff. Be normal. Be safe. It goes on and on.
Well, here’s what you have to do when you hear those voices. TALK BACK. That’s right. You have my permission to say NO to those voices. You are good enough. It’s not weird to write or even if it is, weird is GOOD. The words are coming to you and no one else. If you don’t write them, then there will be nothing but silence. There are other ways to get rich, but only one way to give those voices life. You are a creator. You are special. You’ll have to practice this, but it will get easier. Eventually, it’s kinda fun. Just say NO!
One of the best feelings in the world is feeling love, followed by admiration. It feels good to be admired. It feels good to be accepted by your peers. Here’s how it messes with your writing.
You’re out with your friends. You’re talking about sports or the news or the latest gossip. The conversation goes round and round until you start talking about what you’re up to these days. Your friends will complain about work or the spouse or the kids. You might hear about an outing or two–the usual stuff.
You look around at their faces and a grin slowly makes its way across your lips. “Well,” you say, “I started writing this story. I think it’s pretty good.” “Oh?” your friends reply, “What it’s about?” They are curious. They seem genuinely interested. They look friendly enough. You have no idea that they have in that moment become THE ENEMY.
It was that last question that turns loving friends into enemies of creativity because you are going to blab all the details to them. You are going to brag about the main character. You are going to give away the plot and the conflict. In a few short minutes, you will have told them everything, and once a story is told, it’s over. It’s over because you used up the creative energy in the telling. It’s over because someone in that group is going to want to change your idea or offer a bit of “constructive” criticism that’s going to at best confuse you and at worst crush you. You’ll go home that night thinking you’ll make the changes. You start. You yawn. You tap a few keys, but it’s gone. It’s just as simple as that. It’s gone and it ain’t coming back.
Here’s what you do instead. SHUT UP. That’s right. Talk back to the voices in your head, but keep your mouth shut when it comes to your friends. Save the energy for the writing. Every time you want to say something, tell yourself instead to hold that energy for when you sit down to write. When you’re tempted to blab, grab that feeling and hold it until you’re home and ready to really use it where it counts – at your writing desk. There will be plenty of time later to show your friends the finished product which leads me to the final thought on this.
When you write, especially for the first manuscript or two, write for yourself. Don’t get caught up in wondering if someone will like it. The most important thing for any beginning writer is that YOU like it, and that’s enough!
Some among us would call this a “four letter” word. Within this one word lives the fight you have with the other two pitfalls. To overcome the voices, to overcome the urges you have to be committed to the project. You just don’t get “committed.” (Well, some do, but that’s not what we’re talking about.)
You make a commitment happen in two ways. First, give yourself PERMISSION to write. By giving yourself permission to write, you say to yourself, “Today, I will make time to write. It is as important as (fill in the blank here).” Second, you actually take that time to write. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be arduous. In fact, you should find ways to make it fun like playing your favorite music or going to a favorite hangout.
How much time am I suggesting? How many times a week? The only answer to those questions I can give is, “I don’t care. I just want you to commit to a time and enjoy the time you’ve spent.” There are no rules to this. Seriously, there is no “right” way to do it. You just have to do it. Think of it as a special date with yourself and your friends, the friends in your story who are talking to you in your head. You’ll find that the more often you do something you enjoy–the more often you will do it because you enjoy it.
So that’s it. Say “yes” to writing. Shut up around your friends. Make the time to write. Pretty simple. I’ll be looking for your completed manuscript in the next few months, so get working!