I’ve been writing blind. I don’t mean I’m a pantser. I mean I didn’t know what I was doing. I assume I’ll be working without a process. My so-called process rarely works for more than one book, but in the past year, I lost all my instincts. You know? Instincts? That quiet certainty that you will publish, despite all the odds, that your stories are waiting in a well of imagination and creativity that you don’t understand, but you believe in? The “this is what comes next” that leads you from “Chapter One” to “The End.”
That all deserted me. I’m not sure why. That’s not true--I know most of the reasons--but who besides me wants to hear them? My reasons are my own, and if this has happened to you, yours will be about your life.
If it has happened to you, I have some advice. It’s easy, and yet, you’ll never find any tip harder to follow. It sounds flip, and you’ve heard it before. It’s the advice we all give each other, whether we’ve had a rejection or a success so fantastic we somehow block ourselves with the firm belief we can’t repeat it. Here it comes. You’re already forming the words. That’s right....
Mind you, I tried the tried and true for--about a year--and I’ve written. Some drivel, some keepable stuff. Some really lousy conflicts that were solved by the inevitable conversation. (I can’t lie to myself. I know when I’m not riddled with brilliance.) But despite this constant writing, I couldn’t seem to remember how to do what I’ve been doing all my life. I couldn’t put a story together.
I could play computer games, wander out to a coffee shop and write blah-blah-blah and then delete it and try again. I could even watch a long-canceled soap on AOL Video on my laptop--because that’s some creative procrastination!
Finally, I went on a retreat to the beach. I’d planned it for a long time with two friends I met at a larger retreat last year. As the date for our beachside writing gala neared, I began to panic. The economy’s floundering--I may never make a living again with no writing skills. I felt guilty about taking what could become an expensive vacation without my family, but I’d promised my friends--colleagues, and that meant I’d promised my third of the fees. So, off I went, hoping I’d keep my nose to the grindstone.
And I did. When I left my home, I couldn’t have rented a work ethic with a pile of nice, reliable gold, but by the time I left the beach I was producing well over a thousand words a day. Don’t be fooled. If I manage to keep even one of those words, I’ll consider myself a genius. If I find a conflict in those pages, I’ll be belting out show tunes from our terrifyingly peaked roof.
But I’m writing again. Because I kept writing.
If you have to take a beach retreat, I say do it. If you can go to the brightest, darkest, most silent, or nosiest corner of your house or your favorite coffee shop, or a gym, try that too.
My instincts are trickling back because I didn’t give up. Still no process, but I need those words more than I need a process. It turns out the only thing that can really frighten a writer is not being able to depend on finding the words. I hope you’re all finding your words today.