Starting at the Bottom of the Mountain

Overcoming resistance to write is one of my greatest challenges. Even when I’m excited about what I’m doing and eager to work on it, I seem to find a million excuses to avoid the actual act of writing.

Why is our resistance so great? Dani Shapiro writes in her new book, Still Writing, “The page is your mirror. What happens inside you is reflected back. You come face-to-face with your own resistance, lack of balance, self-loathing, and insatiable ego—and also with your singular vision, guts and fortitude. No matter what you’ve achieved the day before, you begin each day at the bottom of the mountain.

Over the years, these are a few truths I’ve learned:

Show up daily.

Even a few words are better than none. Something about touching pen to paper or fingertips to keys daily, ruminating and focusing your energy, even just the tiniest bit, nurtures the process and keeps the magic flowing.

Write with joy.

Tell the critic to skeedaddle. Enjoy the process. Seriously. It’s not dental surgery. To do so, establish rituals to help you dip and then plunge into the creative well. Have a cup of tea, play some quiet music, light a candle, take eight deep breath and repeat your favorite mantra. Do whatever it takes to create a sanctuary where you can honor the process and find joy even as you struggle to discover the story or flesh out the character.

Silence the inner critic.

Theo Nestor made a comment recently: Write past the self-doubt. It sounds so simple, but it’s HUGE. Quiet, or ignore that nagging belief born of your most insecure, childish self that you’re not good enough.

Write regardless of fireworks exploding around you.

Whatever natural or manmade disaster plaguing you at the moment, and it’s most likely the “flea bites” of life—sickness, interruptions, distractions, bills, another predictable family or friend drama—that will derail you, don’t let it. If you wait for the perfect moment, you’re doomed.

Write about what you care about most deeply.

Follow your heart as far as subject matter. If it sings to you, then you can make your words sing for the reader.

Do not censor yourself.

You can do that later when you revise. Tell your truth. Speak it loudly.

Find a good editor.

Not your spouse, a writer friend or family member. Find a professional.

Do not pay a bit of attention to family, friends or society when it comes to your writing life.

No one wants you to be a writer. How dare you live a creative life when the rest of the world has to punch the time clock? How dare you take time and attention away from other more important people, tasks or responsibilities? No one wants you to be a writer for a million different reasons, so you will have obstacles thrown your way beyond the practical considerations of time, energy and confidence. I’m sure you’re quite good at sabotaging your own commitment to write, but when others throw shame, guilt, indignation and a raised eyebrow as you try to retreat for a little while to write, it’s easy to say, “Okay, what the heck. You’re right. I should be doing something else more productive.”

Endurance and faith are the keys to living the life of the writer. Don’t give up. Ever!


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