Do you have the courage it takes to be a writer?
May 6, 2014
AND THERE IT SITS, staring you in the face during the darkness of an early morning.
A blank screen.
But full of promise.
The promise is up to you.
It’s really not much of a battlefield, this blank screen.
But it can put up quite a fight.
A blank screen can be daunting.
It can strike fear into the hardest of hearts.
It will talk back to you.
It demands you to do something.
It commands you to write.
So what do you do first?
What do you write first?
Too many writers take the easy way out.
I’ll think about it awhile, they say.
I need to better define my characters, they say.
I need to create a new plot twist, they say.
I need to create a plot.
What is the most difficult part of writing?
It’s putting that first word on the page. From that point on, you are committed.
Grab the first word that comes by.
There is no right word or wrong word, no right sentence or wrong sentence, no right or wrong opening.
So don’t worry about it.
Just throw down the first word, any word, and see where it takes you. You can always come back and change it later.
After all, as James Michener once said, “I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great re-writers. I find that three or four readings are required to comb out the clichés, line up pronouns with their antecedents, and insure agreement in number between subject and verbs. My connectives, my clauses, my subsidiary phrases don’t come naturally to me, and I’m very prone to repetition of words. I can never recall anything of mine that’s ever been printed in less than three drafts. You write that first draft really to see how it’ going to come out.”
A story always takes a lot of turns.
You come to a lot of crossroads.
You’re on one road and then the other.
And sometimes you’re on the road that doesn’t come out.
It doesn’t matter.
E. L. Doctorow believed that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.”
You don’t have to see the end when you start.
Just follow the words.
The end will find you.
I’ve always liked Barbara Kingsolver’s advice. She said, “Close the door. Write when no one is looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you. Figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
If you have never been afraid of writing, you have never sat down to write.
But Rachel Ballon pointed out, “Don’t feel guilty about being afraid of the blank page. Don’t think you aren’t a writer if you don’t rush to the computer first thing when you get up in the morning in order to face the empty page. Writing is hard work. Filling up an empty page with your thoughts, your pains, your joys, and your creative ideas take immense courage.”
William Campbell Gault put it this way: “If you haven’t got an idea, start the story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll have to thrown away the first three pages.”
So if you’re afraid to begin your story, jump into the deepest water and swim toward the farthest shore. You’ll be amazed at all of the wonderful and unexpected little surprises you find along the way.
If you’re afraid your idea is not good enough, give it a chance anyway.
Weak ideas may be stronger than you think.
If you’re afraid that you don’t have a good plot, just turn it over to your characters and let them work it out.
They will anyway.
And above all, forget the fear.
Lawrence Block had a great understanding of what writers go through. He said, “Someone once told me that fear and courage are like lightning and thunder. They both start out at the same time, but fear travels faster and arrives sooner. If we just wait a moment, the requisite courage will be along shortly.”
Give it time.
Fear is an illusion.
Courage is always on the way.