Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
~ Louis L’Amour
A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.
~ E.B. White.
Truth be told, since I started freelancing 6 years ago, I have cradled a little writer’s dream to develop and pitch articles for magazines and a certain national newspaper, and to create and write my own blog. All of these things were going to happen in my “free time” (i.e., the time not spent on paid freelance work, and not spent actively caring for 3 children under the age of 5).
It seems reality has finally caught up to me. I haven’t yet pitched a magazine or newspaper, and though I did create this blog, it is decidedly lacking in content.
In fairness to myself (here come the excuses), the paid freelance work has been growing steadily, and it has been worthwhile to prioritize those professional writing and editing projects. This blog may be neglected, but I do contribute articles to another blog (parentwise.ca). And did I mention the 3 kids?
These things keep me busy. Not too busy that I couldn’t carve out some time to write those articles or posts, but just busy enough to build a boatload of excuses to make me feel better about not doing it.
The list of excuses looks something like this: I don’t have time, we’re always moving/I’m always packing or unpacking, my paid work takes priority, I have meetings or phone calls with clients on other projects, there are dishes to clean, dinners to cook, groceries to buy, a dog to walk and volunteer gigs to fulfill – and it all must be done between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the kids are at school.
There are also the perks I consider part of my freelance life that I don’t want to sacrifice: self-care is the mot du jour, and I really do value my occasional daytime yoga classes and time out of the house for lunch dates with other freelancers or stay-at-home friends. The library or a bookstore often lures me in, and don’t even get me started on the temptation of daytime Netflix viewing (I’m talking about you Stranger Things). Oh yes, the feast or famine lifecycle of a freelancer can be this mundane, and this much fun too.
As flimsy as these excuses are, they work very well to allow me to avoid the real problem fairly guilt-free.
The problem you see, is writing.
As in, writing is hard. Like, really hard.
Not so much in the technical aspect of writing. I am after all, an actual experienced writer with some degree of skills, and the task of writing and editing words is still one of my greatest joys. Searching for the right words to string together, sentences to rearrange, massaging the text and helping the written word sing makes for truly satisfying and rewarding work. When I’m in deep, it’s effortless.
But it’s different when I’m writing for myself. As in, essays or short stories that are more creative non-fiction or fiction,and less professional communications projects with clear goals and identifiable audiences. Without money, a deadline, a subject at arm’s length from my personal life, and a larger project plan to keep me motivated and on track (i.e., panicked), I fall back into some pretty well worn procrastination patterns. Without tangible consequences or rewards, I simply don’t sit down enough and just write.
A friend recently mailed me a copy of a book on this exact topic. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a brilliant and witty salve for any creative soul struggling with this problem, which he dubs “resistance”.
Resistance indeed. Despite the fact that I do actually think a lot about what I might write for a magazine article or essay, I tend to just keep adding the ideas to a long list versus sitting down for a few hours and taking a stab at one of them.
This is where it really gets thorny. I know I can (and should) just schedule in some disciplined and dedicated creative writing time into my week. And while I have built a career around writing well, and passionately at times, about topics that I enjoy and are important to me, I have little experience sharing what I write about my own life.
Sitting down to write authentically and openly about myself, my family, my experiences and opinions and then sending that out into the world with my actual name attached to it is as terrifying as it is tempting. It feels a lot like handing around copies of your diaries for everyone to read. What if nobody ever wants to publish it? What if they do, and then my friends and family hate me for what I reveal in that writing? What if I don’t, and I never let those stories out to see the light of day?
The real problem—the really deep down, stop-me-in-my-tracks problem—is fear.
On the bright side, that adds up to only one excuse on my list. A collection of one.
It’s a big one, but the one I’m absolutely going to have to reconcile with if I really want to explore my creative writing voice and find an outlet for all the stories whirling around in my head.
The path is really quite terrifyingly simple. All that’s left to do is write.
Or, as someone so much more elegantly fearless than I once said:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
~ Ernest Hemingway.