I have a running to-do list. I imagine you probably do too. If your to-do list is anything like mine, it’s both finite and inexhaustible at the same time. To-do lists are like hydras. Cross off one item, and several more appear. The truth is, I’ve never gotten to the end of my to-do list.
And you know what’s on my to-do list? Yep. Writing. You know what often doesn’t get done on my to-do list? Yep. Writing.
Because I myself am making one huge, costly mistake. Writing is on my to-do list—in fact, it’s at the top. But it, like “Organize kitchen cabinets” or “Clean under the fridge” or “Learn French,” is in the It would be nice to do this if I have time category.
You know what that translates to? The It will never get done category. Just look in my kitchen cabinets. Or under my fridge. Or me demander si je parle française.
(Actually, don’t do any of those things.)
If you’re serious about writing, it needs to be made a priority. It needs to be THE priority, the one that you don’t go to bed without doing, like brushing your teeth. You need to write every day. Even if just for fifteen minutes.
I can already hear your objections, in part because they are my objections. It’s so difficult to know what to write. I’m not even sure I have the talent. Writing so often won’t produce anything good. I have to wait till inspiration strikes or the muse taps me on the shoulder.
I don’t believe in a muse, and I certainly don’t believe in waiting for one, however whimsical the idea sounds. I believe in putting your rear in a chair (to corrupt a more well-known writer proverb) and writing whatever comes. And doing that day after day after day after day.
Make a plan and stick to it. I wrote my first book, a gentle and frivolous parody, in twenty-one days because I had a deadline. Was it crazy? Yes. Do I recommend it? Absolutely not. What I took away from that experience was not a caffeine addiction or permanent eye-twitching (thankfully), but instead that the only thing I really needed to do to write was to decide to write—and then follow through.
One objection remains. I’m not even sure I have the talent. Well, nobody’s sure. Nobody may ever read your writing but your mom and your grandmother. Nobody may ever read my writing but my mom and grandmother. But do you love it? If the answer is yes, nothing else matters.
I also take heart from author Michael Cunningham, who writes:
What I do is this: I get up every morning and go straight to work, and on the good days I write with pleasure. On the bad days, I just sit there, waiting to see if something will come. On the bad days, if I’m lucky, I’ll come up with a lame sentence or two, thinking, I’ll delete this later. It’s terrible, but it’s all I’ve got today. I’ve found, though, that when I look back six months later at what I’ve written, I can’t distinguish the parts I wrote on the good days from the parts I wrote on the bad. I’ve come to believe that the inspiration is always there, like an electrical current, and what varies is our access to it. And I’ve found that the best way to cope with that is with diligence, with a kind of daily determination.
There’s no magic potion. There’s no elusive muse. Only you and the paper and the pen.
So get up in the morning, or stay awake a little longer each night. Put your rear in a chair. And write.