As some of you know, I’ve been “writing” a book for some years now – a book that’s very important to me, that tells a story that I very much want to share. I think about it all the time. I think about what I want to add to it and what I don’t want to forget.
But have I written the thing? No. Could I have done it by now? Yes – or hey, why mince around, let’s say “hell, yes!” because in the time that’s passed since I’ve committed to this book, I’ve written 482 posts on my own blog, 207 ghost-written posts for clients, a half dozen guest blog posts on other sites, and – let us not forget, a full-length nonfiction book, 50,000+ words ghostwritten for a client.
To go on with my folly, I’ll share that when I was ghost writing that book, I was in the best work-heaven I’ve been in, possibly ever. Frequently, I lost track of time (worse than usual). I felt good, I felt purposeful, I felt, in my bones, that this was what I was meant to do. Oh yeah, the writer’s life for me!
But back to have I written my own book? Yeah, no. Have I done some of it? Yes, I have. Have I done enough to submit a proposal to a publisher or agent? Yes, actually yes, if I’d just pull myself together and write the damn proposal.
And there you have it.
I am a writer. But I do not allow myself to be.
From time to time I have a session with Linda Lowen, a fantastically insightful, inuitive, smart, hard-working, and tell-it-like-it-is writer and writing coach, and she inspires me. It’s largely because of her that I’ve moved forward as much as I have, little though it might be. I asked Linda to inspire me again – to inspire everyone who longs to be a writer and is a part of this great Women At Woodstock online community. She generously obliged. Here are Linda’s words of wisdom and, for some of you I hope, wake-up call. Read, think, do.
Guest Post by Linda Lowen
You’ve always wanted to write, but it’s more dream than reality. Why? Maybe it’s because you haven’t been given ‘permission’ to write. You think if you try to take a writing class, attend a retreat or a writer’s workshop, you won’t be ‘allowed’ in because your work isn’t good enough.
Don’t laugh. This may sound silly, but it’s a very real concern for many would-be writers. Fear of rejection is commonly cited by adults as the biggest reason they avoid doing, joining, or trying new and different things. If you’re not good enough as an athlete, you might brush it off saying you lacked strength or coordination or you had a bad day. But if you’re not good enough as a writer, it’s as if your soul is being judged and dismissed.
I’ve been surprised at the people I’ve met–among them several compelling writers–who’ve told me that they felt this way. They include:
• a talented blogger and teacher from New York who directs a very successful annual event featuring writers sharing essays about motherhood
• a professional writer and internet expert from California who’s ghostwritten a book for a client but is afraid to write one for herself on a familiar (but underreported) problem that affects many of us
• a teacher from Iowa who, in college, studied under–and was praised by–a New York Times best-selling author; later, when his work was rebuffed by a college administrator, he abandoned writing for more than a decade
Nobody is immune to insecurity about their work. That’s why when you commit to a writing practice and surround yourself with a supportive network, you’re more likely to see to long-term success than if you go it alone.
For the past four years I’ve taught writing to adults at a regional writer’s center. Many were complete novices. Others were published authors who wanted clarity in their prose, an editor sensitive to their unique voice, and someone to bounce ideas off of.
Teaching changed everything I knew about writing, and I’d been writing for decades. Before, I believed only a select few could write. You either had it, or you didn’t. That attitude was wrong and arrogant. The truth is, anyone can write. Writing is not a talent, a gift, or a moment of grace bestowed by the Muse or any other supernatural entity. Writing is a skill, one that anyone can develop over time.
And the biggest impediment you may face in developing that skill might be you. You play head games with yourself, one moment believing you’re good, the next minute hating your work. A lot of this may stem from experiences in childhood and young adulthood.
If you were praised for being a good writer as a kid, while you may have been proud of that ability, the praise also placed a burden on you–a burden of high expectations which led to low output because you felt your writing needed to be perfect, otherwise you couldn’t share it. Mixed in was fear that maybe you weren’t as good as others thought–that the praise was a mistake.
Good writers aren’t born, they’re made. Good writing takes practice, a lot of practice. Years of work, many failures, novels finished but never sold. And that’s something most successful writers don’t talk about. That “first” novel they had published was probably the 7th or even 10th novel they’d written. Writing is nothing more than a skill perfected, polished, gleaming so brilliantly that the reader is immediately pulled in. A good story takes you away. That’s not happenstance. That’s experience, forethought, and discipline at work in your writing.
What the general public believes about the craft of writing is largely romanticized, unrealistic, and actually harmful to would-be writers who are already anxious enough that they don’t measure up.
Only in the field of writing do we believe that some sort of special grace will just drop down from the heavens and anoint us and we’ll write that superb piece without effort.
Only in the field of writing do we think that if it’s hard, it’s no good.
Surprise! Writing is work. It’s hard. Birds don’t burst into song when you write, flowers don’t blossom on every bare branch. Life isn’t magical as a writer–it’s the same exact thing it always was, and it’s frequently a struggle to produce something worthwhile. When you write, you get little encouragement for putting words on the page, but you do it because you’ve made the commitment to yourself and your craft.
In every other career, we accept that work is work. Every day, whether you want to or not, you go to work. A waitress doesn’t say, “My head’s not in the game and I’m not feeling it about the menu items today. I think I’ll stay home.” A teacher doesn’t say, “I’m not particularly inspired to impart knowledge to young minds today. I’m going shopping instead.” This doesn’t happen. Whatever our profession, we go to work.
To succeed as a writer, you have to–in the words of author and writing guru Steven Pressfield–“go pro,” which means you have to take your writing seriously and do the work every day.
It’s Not If, But When
I won’t say “If you do this” but “When you do this” because if you’re still reading–still with me–something has kept you engaged throughout these 900 words thus far and that’s probably your desire to write. You want this. You want to take that next step, and you know it’s time.
So… When you do this–when you get serious about your writing and make it a daily habit like brushing your teeth, no skipping, no excuses–three outcomes are unavoidable: progress, growth, and self-confidence. Do the work, and this will happen. Guaranteed.
This is not to say that any of this is easy stuff. In fact, you won’t be happy about doing it if you do it right. The work itself is not the reward–the improvement in the writing is the reward.
Look at it this way:
– We don’t expect someone to sink a half court shot in basketball if they’ve never played.
– We wouldn’t hire a lawyer who’s never argued a case in front of a jury.
– We’d be crazy if we agreed to surgery at the hands of someone who’s never operated before.
So why would we expect to be flawless writers on the very first try?
Don’t believe those stories you’ve heard about J.K. Rowling having never written anything before. It’s simply not true. She’s since acknowledged that she’s been writing since she was six, but that no other story had excited her as much as Harry Potter. She also faced rejection from agents and publishers before that first book was accepted.
You can write. YOU CAN WRITE. The only thing stopping you is you…and a little guidance…and the knowledge of what makes for a successful, effective story. Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, memoir, the elements are the same.
I’ll be the writer-in-residence at both Women At Woodstock writing workshops, and will be happy to meet with you outside of our morning gatherings and evening readings for a little one-on-one advice and support. It’s all included in the cost.
The Secret To Becoming A Writer, For Real
Since you’ve hung on ’til the bitter end, I’ll share with you two secrets that separate the successful writer from the dabbling novice.
The first one’s simple: A million words. Write a million words, and you will never again say, “I couldn’t find the words to say what I wanted to say,” because you will have practiced enough to know your craft. You will have the skills to perfect every paragraph, line and word, along with the knowledge that it isn’t supposed to come out right the first time, but it will eventually get there through revision, editing, and hard work.
The second secret is to put yourself in the company of writers and others who will inspire you, share helpful advice, offer constructive criticism of what works and what doesn’t, and push you when you need it. Family and friends–as much as they may try to offer guidance–don’t have the same sense of writing as other writers. Coming together with writers and building a trusted cohort of peers is essential to your skill development.
I just got back from a writer’s conference where I focused on my fiction process, found a writing partner and felt validated in ways I hadn’t expected. I came home riding a wave of energy that prompted me to write 6,000 words in three days. When I posted this on Facebook, I was stunned to see the number of friends who responded with longing, envy, and questions. So many of us want to write, but are afraid to attend a class, workshop or retreat.
Please don’t lose another moment to self-doubt or fear. I promise, if you come to one or both of the two Women at Woodstock writing retreats, you will confront this fear head-on and come away with the tools and confidence you need to really, really write. And you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
If you have any questions about me, my background, or what we’ll be doing, the link to my website is below. If you’re on the fence and just need some encouragement to move forward, please get in touch with me–you can reach me through my website.
Ann’s a good sharer; she’s letting me post again on this blog in August and September with more thoughts on writing. Talk to you then.
Want to know more about me? Visit lindalowen.com.
Linda Lowen is Founder of AlwaysWantedToWrite.com, a writing studio in Syracuse, NY in the historic Delavan Center that offers small classes for absolute beginners and those who’ve written before but are stuck and need encouragement. For more background on Linda, click here.