Since You Asked…

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Dear Caroline,

I’ve always secretly dreamed of being a writer. Ideas occur to me when I’m going about my day, but the blank computer screen seems terrifying whenever I sit down to write. I haven’t finished anything, let alone had anything published, yet my dream won’t die. What can I do? 

Loss for Words

Dear Loss,

You’re not alone. The world is full of writers who don’t write, painters who don’t paint, composers who don’t compose and so on.

Do you want to know what separates writers from wannabes? Here it is in four words: bottom in the chair.

Not as glamorous, romantic or mysterious as you may have hoped, but that’s what it boils down to. Writers put their bottoms in their chairs and stay there through the discomfort, wannabes don’t.

Start thinking of yourself as a professional writer — even though you’re not getting paid. Learn as much about your craft as possible. When ideas occur to you, jot them down. And commit to putting your bottom in the chair for a set amount of time or a set number of words on a regular basis.

Don’t let the blank screen and blinking cursor win the stare-down. Seize a thought and go with it. Hard work attracts the muse the way peanuts attract squirrels. Once you’re grinding away, the muse will show up.

As to your anxiety, creativity and fear tend to go hand in hand. Get used to acting in the face of that fear because as most creative people will attest, it never entirely goes away.

When one of my friends, a successful playwright, was experiencing creative anxiety, her husband made a sign that now hangs over her desk. It reads: “You have permission to write absolute crap and have fun doing it.” That reminder helps keeps her prolific.

I’m bringing up that point because you need to get your brainstorming and first drafts on the page without self-censoring. Think quantity over quality. You can’t polish and revise unless you have something to work with. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is s**t .”

Having more than one project going at once can be a good idea so you can shift gears if you hit an impasse, but don’t overdo it. Now that you’re in a professional mindset, you’ll need more than bundles of beginnings to show for your time. Besides, the more challenging the project is, the happier you’ll be when you finish.

Last, but not least, productive writers train themselves to write wherever they happen to be — in a coffee shop, a noisy airport, at their kitchen table, in bed with the flu — you get the idea.

Here’s to making your dream a reality. Starting here. Starting now.


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