The elusive secret – Breakthrough Tip for 3/17/2014

You have an entire shelf of books on how to write. Maybe you’ve even read them all. You’ve gone to expensive writing workshops and consulted writing gurus who claim to have the secret. You’ve given yourself a private space to write, bought pens worthy of your stories, software to jumpstart you and still found yourself at the end of each year facing the emptiness that hasn’t even begun to fill  with your stories, your poems, your memoir, your columns and articles. You wonder what the secret is that working writers know – and why you can’t seem to learn it.

The secret, of course, is different for each writer. One of my students couldn’t make herself sit down to write. We tried having me call her at the time she intended to write; then her calling me. She tried keeping a calendar of her progress. Nothing worked. She decided to use her writing time to research the characters of her novel. A few months later she came in for our conversation – with a huge smile.  “I know what’s been happening,” she said. “I decided to write yesterday morning, just a short email to my writing. My writing wrote back. It told me that I had turned my writing into the same kind of bleak job that I retired from a year ago. When I stopped making demands on myself, something shifted. I had to learn to give myself a break.”

There are as many ways to discover the secret to not writing as there are writers not writing. When all else fails, you can always try this: take your notebook/your computer to a place in which you’d never imagined you could write: the deli tables in the supermarket, the food court in the mall, the local laundromat on Swamped Saturday. Write one word. Then write how writing that one word feels. It won’t cost you a penny – unless you buy a turkey club sandwich or decide to do your wash while you write. (Ray Carver’s essay, Fires, is set in a laundromat and it’s the most powerful description of feeling desperate to write I’ve ever read.)

As always,  I’d love to read what doing this experiment yields for you – emphasis on doing the experiment, not just thinking about it!

Note: I own one book on writing – Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. He is a master – his blade can cut through all the stories you tell yourself to keep yourself not writing.





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