The Permission To Write
Years ago I was visiting family in Oregon.
On a sunny, Portland day where the temperature hovered blissfully between a low 68 and a high 70, I contemplated how good life was. I watched shorts-clad joggers dropping by cafes for iced coffees and I realized I had no problems whatsoever. I could write volumes in such an environment.
Then I came home. New York was grey and cloudy. The mail was messy, a pile simply challenging me to attack it. My mood plummeted. Writing? What was that?
Although life occasionally hands us the perfect day, the majority of them are anything but. There are families and jobs and bodies to tend to, to say nothing of relationships. If you're a writer, unless you have the lifestyle of the “one percent”, you're screwed.
We all know how much time and focus writing requires; how can we possibly create a regular practice within our busy lives that allows us the time and environment we need to be creative?
The answer is we have to do it ourselves; no one and nothing is going to do it for us. I started out as an actress; another actress once told me how frustrating it was telling people you were an actress (“I'm an actress. If that's ok with you...”)
I began to think of myself as a writer when I realized I no longer wanted to write; I had to write (think eating, or drinking water.) At this point it became really easy to stop asking others for permission.
For now, I am giving you the permission to write; eventually you will do the same for yourself.
Your first step is to decide who you are as a writer. Since we all have day jobs, even if we're retired or on disability, we just need to figure out how to convey to others that we are writers and that we spend time writing. I'm a writer, educator and private tutor. It’s a mouthful but that’s what I do. No one questions me. The sooner we become comfortable with our role as writers, the easier it will become to create our identities as such.
The next step is to decide what you write. Are you a poet or a novelist? Perhaps you're a playwright. In my case, I write non-fiction works of all types, from articles about homeless children in Baltimore to essays about my obsession with black and white films.
The final -- and perhaps most important step -- is to decide how you write. This encompasses three points: when, method, and where.
When. My perfect, Portland day was a sunny, 70-degree morning. It was my dream writing scenario. If I hadn't been with my family I would have been one of those joggers, grabbing an iced coffee and settling down at a cafe table to dive into my next project. Needless to say, I'm a morning person; you, on the other hand, might be a night owl. You're job is to figure out your optimal time to write.
Method is also key. I used to write with pen and paper; then I found myself on a bus with an idea and no notebook. Who does that? The advent of smart phones and the iPhone Note App changed all that. Now I have no problem getting those thoughts down on technology. Organization is also part of method. How many articles, ideas, and notes have I misplaced because I really don’t have a system? (and I'm a really organized person...) Do you file on flash drives? Do you print and file in old-school manila folders? Or do you simply have everything in a notebook? The sooner you decide how to organize your writing, the easier it will be for you to manage your projects in the long run.
Where you write is equally important, especially in New York, where, once more, unless you have the lifestyle of the one percent, you need to figure out what space suits your needs as a writer. Is it at the kitchen table or a table at your local cafe? Can you work with people around you or do you need complete solitude (as I write this I am on the subway and a couple next to me is discussing the logistics of getting to the climate change march. I am trying to tune them out...)
Whether you're a beginning writer or one who is more established, everyone should be journaling. This affords you the opportunity to write daily (I write in my journal at the end of my day) and takes the pressure off if you have no specific project in mind. It's like working out; the more you do it the better it is for you. A great journaling exercise is the Morning Pages from The Artists Way (Cameron). The requirements are simple: three handwritten pages, unedited, without stopping. On your perfect day, you do these when you wake up; for most of us, this will take place on a weekend day or day off.
Ultimately, when you find the who, what, and when of you as a writer you’ll be able to get to work; a great goal is on a weekly, then- hopefully, daily basis.
A final thought: In our word-driven world, it’s important to remember that, from a historical standpoint, we were all once storytellers. Good writing is good storytelling.
What story do you want to tell?