How long is it now that you’ve been a writer?
A year? Five years? A decade or more?
Perhaps you don’t even realize that you are a writer, or maybe you’re not sure if you should be claiming such a thing. But here’s a tip – if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a writer. Whether you know it or not.
I’ve been a writer for years. Dating well back into my school days – if not my entire life. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do; in some ways it’s what I’ve always known I’m meant to do. Sure, I’ve dabbled in other ideas, called myself by other names, even made a living doing other things (most of the time, actually). But despite all that, writing is my true passion.
But if you’re thinking this means I’ve been well and truly published and publicized, then you’d be wrong. The truth is that, until recently, the past 15 years has seen me do little more than reach critical acclaim from my school English department, publish a few magazine articles, and maintain fairly regular entries into my journal. Over the past year I’ve built my blog to the point where I’m now gaining new readers daily, but still – all that combined doesn’t really account for enough, does it?
How about you? Can you relate? If so, then here’s the million-dollar question – perhaps literally if it means you finally get off your butt.
If you are a writer, then why is that you don’t write consistently? I mean, let’s be honest here. I know I’m not the only one who has had weeks, even months, pass by with no new material to show.
So how often do you write? Or – more importantly – do you write as much as you’d like to? I’m not talking about issues of time, you understand. After all, we both know that even 10 minutes each day can pay off over the course of a year. No, what I’m asking about is the regularity with which you follow through on a commitment to yourself and put pen to paper (so to speak) despite not having anything in mind to write about.
Despite the fact that you’re completely devoid of inspiration.
Because that’s what it often comes down to, isn’t it? That elusive something which so ruthlessly governs the success or failure of many an artist. When I think about it, I can attribute the vast majority of missed writing time to the fact that I simply did not feel inspired. And, let’s face it; I hate to think of myself as somebody who is controlled by a mere emotion. Don’t you?
Recently I came across the blog of a rather successful fiction author. Every so often, she’d included a post geared toward fellow writers rather than readers, and one of those posts really spoke to me. The author was talking about writer’s block, and she wrote the following –
Sometimes, you have to sit at the keyboard and really fight tiredness, sometimes it’s a case of putting your fingers on the home keys and squeezing out one letter, then another, then another until you have a word, until you have a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter. This often requires you to conquer the demons who say, bugger this, I’m not inspired today, I’ll write double tomorrow, I’m off to the shops/ down the pub/ to the sofa for a quick snooze and a bit of daytime TV.
Nothing profound there, but it sure hits home, doesn’t it?
It’s time to stop waiting for the creative genius to hit, and to simply start doing. To prove (if to no-one else but ourselves) that we are, in fact, writers. Because like it or not, the truth is that it’s not really fair to call ourselves writers unless we are, in fact, writing. Wouldn’t you agree?
I’ve been gradually introducing this concept into my life over the past 18 months, and I’m starting to really notice its power. You see I’ve discovered something so wonderful, so marvelous, and so very unexpected, that I truly believe it’s the key to success. However you might define that. Here it is –
You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike in order to be inspired. When you start writing regularly, without inspiration or even an idea, inspiration gradually finds you.
Ideas slowly trickle into your mind. And before you know it, you’re infused with passion and carried away in that magical state of ‘flow’ where the world fades away and nothing matters but you and the words in front of you. I guarantee that this will happen for you if you choose to be persistent.
Because the truth is that something as mundane and oft resisted as building a habit actually works. It becomes the fuel to your furnace. When you act as though you’re a writer, you become a writer. Your creative genius has been there all along – as a matter of fact, it’s there right now. Waiting for you. It’s just that it’s a little shy and most of the time you have to tempt it out of hiding.
But here’s where you really need to listen up.
I cannot tell you how crucial it is that you don’t put this off any longer, because it works the opposite way as well. The longer you spend waiting for the genius, hoping that today will be the day you’re hit with a brilliant and unique idea, but in the meantime doing anything but inviting that genius into your life, the less likely the chances of it appearing.
And before you know it, you’ll forget that you ever were a writer. You’ll convince yourself that writing is unsustainable as a career and not that important even as a hobby. You’ll forget what it’s like to finish a great piece and bask in the knowledge that you’ve created something out of nothing. That this is what you were meant to do; that it gives you energy for every other part of your life. And you’ll tell yourself that it obviously wasn’t right for you.
But the good news? There’s still time. You can still be that person. It’s never too late, but yet why would you wait any longer? If a writer is who you say you are, then it’s time to step up and prove it. It’s up to you how you go about doing that, but here are a few ideas that may start you off:
1. Writing retreats
A writing retreat is simply a 2 or 3-day period of time where you lock yourself away from the world and commit yourself to writing and everything writing-related. This could include brainstorming or mind mapping, daydreaming, catching up on blogs such as this one and connecting with other writers, but at least 4-5 solid hours each day should be designated to the art itself. A writing retreat could be as simple as you in your study with the door closed, or as varied as inviting a few like-minded friends to join you for a country getaway. You might also like to consider making a commitment with online friends and touching base every few hours throughout your retreat.
2. 30-day challenge
The 30-day challenge is one of my favorite methods for building or rejuvenating any habit. I came across the idea on Zen Habits at the beginning of this year. Leo’s challenge to his readers was to commit to 30 days of doing ‘first things first’ – for at least 10 minutes. For me, that meant no emails, no text messages, no social networking, nothing except writing for a minimum of 10 minutes as soon as I switched the computer on. I managed to make it 30 days straight and I can’t even begin to tell you the impact this made. I’m quite sure the quality of my content improved; certainly my subscribers increased, but most importantly of all I felt incredibly inspired and full of pride at keeping this small commitment to myself. I strongly suggest you instigate a 30-day personal challenge at least twice each year.
3. Weekly writing day
The weekly writing day is perfect for maintenance of your writing career when you have another full-time job or equivalent responsibilities. It’s all about what works for you, but in this case you may find that rather than frantically trying to squeeze in a few words each day it pays more to set aside an entire day or 2 half days each week to ‘batch process’ your writing. I’ve been trialing this for a month now, pre-writing all my personal blog posts on a Saturday. I’ve found it gives me a great sense of control over the week ahead, and also frees me up to be creative with guest posts and new ideas.
I hope I’ve given you some small motivation towards harnessing your own inspiration. Even more so, I hope that next time either of us is asked how long we’ve been a writer, we can answer with truth and with pride and feel pretty darn good about it. In the meantime, tell me this – what do you do to invite inspiration into your writing and your life? I’d love to hear what has/hasn’t worked for you.