I was thinking recently of all the ways that we sometimes keep ourselves from writing. Here are but a few:
1. We wait for inspiration to strike: Sometimes, particularly in the early years of a writing career, we get the idea that our writing is the result of being inspired, and if we just don’t feel inspired, well, then, we just don’t, period, and we wait for that inspiration to come, and we wait, and we wait, and we wait. . . . We need to recognize that when we write, we practice a craft, and the more we practice it, the better we become. It’s not inspiration that we need; it’s time, a quiet place, and effort.
2. We think we need to do more research: Research is seductive. We fall under its wiles and the next thing we know we aren’t writing. We’re reading. When I’m writing historical fiction or memoir, I tend to gather information and artifacts to the point that I see my characters moving through a very specific world and starting to talk to one another. Then it’s time to write. I know that I’ll go back later and fill in the gaps with more research, but once a storyline launches itself in my mind, it’s time to follow it. We can research the life out of something. We can know so much, there’s nothing left to discover in the writing.
3. We think we have to be perfect. When you’re writing a first draft, do you spend too much time writing and then rewriting a single sentence, a paragraph? If so, you’re a sentence or a paragraph torturer. I’ve been one in my life. I know that desire to make everything perfect before moving on, but we have to move on. Too much rewriting in a draft closes off spontaneous discovery. Produce pages; torture later.
4. We give into despair. We listen to the little voices in our heads, and those little voices tell us we’ll never be good enough and that no one cares if we keep writing. That’s true. No matter how much we succeed, we’ll always think we can do better. If we stop writing, the world won’t even notice. The world doesn’t owe us that caring; we owe it to ourselves. So accept the fact that our craft is one in which more often than not we feel as if we’ve fallen short. Don’t give into despair. Use that feeling of wanting to be better to make yourself write more (see #1).
5. We’re afraid to fail. Those little voices in our heads (damn, those little voices in our heads) tell us we’re bound to fail. Tell those little voices to take note of what Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Here’s what I know: We don’t get anywhere by stopping. Whenever I used to tell my father I couldn’t do something, he’d say, “Can’t never did nothing.” True enough. Writers have to write. We have to care enough to keep going. The little voices in our heads have a number of reasons why we shouldn’t. Kill the little voices. Remember what former U.S. Senator and professional basketball player, Bill Bradley, said: “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”