A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

18 May 2012

"I'm a writer.  And you know what the most difficult part of my job is? Writing."

So begins my favorite entry in one of my favorite books, The Imagineering Workout. The more I torture myself with analysis and reflection on what I want to be when I grow up, the more it becomes clear that I'm a writer.  And the most difficult part of my job, unquestionably, is writing.

Michael Sprout, the Disney Imagineer and concept writer who authored this entry, offers some steps for the creative writing process.  If you'll permit me a bit of self-indulgence here, I'd like to use those as the outline to explore what's going on with me right now (after all, if you can't be self-indulgent on your own blog, where can you?)  Even people who have built a career out of helping other people get out of their own way, sometimes get in their own way.  That's the story of my life right now.

Michael says that step one is "say, 'sure.'"  In other words, the first thing to do is to agree, and commit, to write something.  Most of the thousands of blogs on the internet have only a scant handful of readers, including this one.  The blogs on the short list, the ones that are really successful, are the ones that get updated frequently.  The best bloggers update at least once a day and comment on other blogs as well.  They are active in the community of bloggers, and therefore get attention from readers, followers, and advertisers.  The rest of us don't post enough, and for that reason we don't build huge followings of readers.  (If a blog has a ton of posts and still doesn't have any readers, that's your clue that quantity is necessary, but not sufficient.  Writing != having something to say, and both are required for long-term success.)

So for me, saying "sure" is about committing to write more.  The prerequisite for this is deciding to own, once and for all, that I'm a writer.  I'm still working on that, but I'm closer today than I've ever been before.

Step two, according to Michael, is "panic."  Now THAT is a plan I can embrace! This is the step where all the negative self-talk runs rampant.  In the book, his panicked self-talk messages include "I don't' know what I'm doing. I should have been a carpet installer."  My self-talk messages include "real writers are so much better than me.  I don't have enough discipline to be a writer.  I can't make any money writing."  Of course, those things are all true until I commit to making them false.  So if I want to change my fate as a writer, I better move on quickly to step three.

Michael says step three is "go to the library." And I love this, both because libraries are cool, and because he is using the statement as a metaphor.  "Going to the library" means collecting every bit of information you can get your hands on about whatever you want to write about.  If I'm going to write about milkweed, I'll need to find its Latin name (asclepias tuberosa), its origins, habits, cultivation needs, context (why do I care?  Well, because it's the primary larval and nectar food source for the monarch butterfly.  Did you know?) and whatever other information may enable me to write about milkweed.  I'll write something decent about milkweed if I read a lot about it.  But I'll write something better about it if I also grow it in my garden, see it in a butterfly enclosure, stick my nose in it to see if it makes me sneeze, and watch a butterfly sipping its nectar (or a caterpillar devouring its leaves).  The library is wherever your subject is -- not just the building full of books.

My lesson about going to the library is that if I want to be a good writer, I need to be a voracious reader.  That is a challenge for me (long story, sounds like whining, not worth wasting words on it).  It's a challenge I must, and will, commit to overcome if I want to be successful as a writer.

Steps four and five are about changing focus after filling your head to overflowing with information about the topic.  (He calls these steps "goof off" and "go to sleep".)  Basically, he's saying that once you have all the information your frontal lobes can possibly pack in, you need to let your back brain digest and process it all.  The subconscious brain is an insanely powerful and efficient computer, able to process data thousands of times faster than your cerebral cortex.  It works best when you're not constantly interrupting it with lame suggestions from your conscious mind, so do something unrelated to the writing project and give it some peace to do the work.  I have certainly experienced this, and have come to trust that process.  My challenge is to make sure I don't let "goofing off" displace writing-related activities completely.  One thing all writers and writing coaches agree on is that if you mean to be a good writer, you have to write every. single. day.  Preferably for an hour or more.  So that's what I need to do.

Finally, step six is the actual writing part.  Michael lists this step as "let it happen."  And that's exactly it -- once I've done the prerequisites, the writing comes pretty easily.  All I have to do is do it.  The easiest, and hardest, thing in the world.

Step seven, the last one, is to "keep writing implements handy at all times."  So far for me, this hasn't been an issue -- the muse strikes rarely enough that I'm almost never out of reach of a pencil on those occasions when she does.  But the point is well taken, and in fact I do have pencil and paper on my headboard, a note-taking app on my phone, an iPad, an assortment of journals and notebooks, and and abundance of pens and pencils that are comfortable for me to use.  Not having the right tools for any job makes it a hundred times harder, and I'm way too lazy to put up with that nonsense.  For me, it's less about having the tools than about using them.  That's my challenge, and that's why I decided to resurrect this blog that has been dormant for awhile. I've given it a facelift, let go of the self-imposed limitations on what topics I'll post here, and am now committing to write.

I have said "sure."  I am panicking a little.  I'll be headed to the library as soon as I post this.  And we'll go from there.

No comments: