Ok, so none of these steps are exactly easy, but it’s not rocket science either. Attempt anything new and the inner critic is typically there, yammering away in your ear about all the reasons you should not proceed; this voice is not your friend. I went to a wonderful Local Author Workshop last year at The Topeka Public Library. I learned practical information about the submission process (and started using Duotrope as a result) and about types of publication, but mostly I was inspired by the other writers. Harriet Lerner in particular gave advice to us (like – rewriting is not punishment, it’s what writers do!) that I still refer to in my written notes from the day. As a result I crafted these rules for myself. Maybe they will resonate for you, in whatever creative act you are engaged in.
1) Actually create new content
I spend an awful lot of time thinking about what I want to write, and while everyone’s process is different, the time must come to lay words down on the page. Maybe it will suck, but in the paraphrased words of Ann Lamont, give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. Or a piece of music that misses the mark. Or whatever it is…just start.
2) Tell the truth
You know what’s worse than bad writing? Insincerity. Falseness. Pretension. I love what Stephen King says in On Writing, “Some people don’t want to hear the truth, of course, but that’s not your problem.” When I hesitate to share something in a personal essay that is relevant to the theme; or revise dialogue for a character in fiction because I wonder what my children will think if they ever read it – well, then I must decide to either tell the truth or not to write it. Because I’ve realized that what Henri Nowen wrote is so true, “What is most personal is most universal”.
3) Finish what you start
For me, this is where the battle intensifies. That inner voice, like a gong, reminds me how awful what I have so far is. That it’s not going well and I could be doing a million more productive things with my time than wasting it on this drivel. That voice is my enemy, I have to remind myself. So what? I tell it – at least I finished. And yes, it’s hard and it feels like work. It is work. But you know what else is work? Creating a six course gourmet menu for thirty people nightly with high expectations in your home where you wash your own dishes and scrub the toilet along with nurturing and feeding your daughters who are underfoot. That still seems like real work to me.
Or as Cheryl Strayed wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things, “Writing is hard for every last one of us…Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal. They do not. They simply dig.” Just finish.
4) Put you work out there
We must be brave, this is where real courage can be required. I love what my husband said to me when I told him I wasn’t sure if my first novel was fit to be published – Well, there’s one away to find out. Maybe it’s just letting another human being see what you have done. Or joining a group where you share work and are open to feedback. Or trying to find an agent, starting a blog, submitting a proposal or showing up to audition only to be told no to your face. This is where rejection can become real and not just the voice in your head. And while rejection sucks, it doesn’t have to cripple you. Just google ‘literary rejections’ for inspiration. Consider your rejections as joining the ranks of those you respect. And then…
Don’t give up on what’ve already done but don’t stop working either. The march is forward, friend.