let's talk - kindly, and then write a lot.

I wonder if it's a writer's plight to just feel in a constant state of "writer's block," because it damn sure feels like I'm constantly feeling that way, or claiming that I am, assuming the position of the artist that is stuck. We are what we eat. More or less, we do walk the talk that goes inside our heads. If, every time I walk past my guitar, I tell myself, "You have writer's block. You're just going to get frustrated. You already are frustrated. You're not going to be able to write a song," then odds are I'm not going to pick up my guitar and fiddle around (which is the cause of me not picking up my guitar and fiddling around barely at all this YEAR). When I look at my journal or I'm sitting at my computer, I do the same thing; "You have writer's block. You don't have any ideas to work on. You don't have any thoughts to work through/ you have too MANY thoughts to process, it's no use." Negativity fosters negativity. Positivity fosters creativity, hope, taking some chances.

Seth Godin says of writer's block:

"Writer's block isn't hard to cure. Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you're concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

The second best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you'll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.

Write like you talk. Often." 

I love that line, "shipping nothing is safe." It embodies the risk of putting something out there, though there is the hope that somewhere it will be received in some sort of capacity.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, (my copy sweetly handed down to me from my dear writer friend Amanda Lee Smith), encourages us to just plug through the shitty first draft:

"Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)...


The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, "Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?," you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go -- but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."

This chapter in the book was so freeing to me! I can't tell you how many songs I've crumpled up and thrown out because they're no Bob Dylan/Lesley Feist dynamo-combo extraordinaire. We need to trust that first spark of inspiration and ride it out through the uneven turns that they take us until it's all out and we can use our trained, grammatically correct (usually) brains to clean it up and make it look/ sound great. But don't cut off Inspiration, she who knows when she'll pick you up again.

And finally, to complete the trio of writing cheerleaders, Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet [one of my absolute favorites-of-all-time-and-forever-more]:

"Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing."


"Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!"

When I was home in BC this summer I met up with Karen Thrall, a dear friend, mentor, inspiration [the list goes on], and was lamenting my insecurities about my medias of art. I kind of said it in passing [another topic of conversation dominated our brief rendez-vous], but at the end, so briefly, just as I was digging for my car keys, she just said, "Just don't sweat it. When you have the words, write them down, and when you don't, don't. You are still an artist in those quiet times."

So may we all be more committed to the kindness of self, the dedication to observing and commenting on the experiences that reach us and speak to us, and in doing so, sharing with each other the riches with which we've been entrusted.

Posted on September 24, 2011 and filed under from jess-.