Moments that Matter: Just Start Writing
It’s another Monday, which means I get to feature another incredible woman! Today, we have Patricia of On Demand Instruction sharing her story and journey towards becoming a writer. I love writing in all forms, which means I’m excited to be sharing a post all about writing with you!
Random side note: Anyone else sing “Just Start Writing” to the tune of “Just Keep Swimming” or is that just me?
Want to Be a Writer? Start Writing.
During most of my life, I have written in occasional bursts and spurts. Sometimes I have written on a daily basis, filling in journals with hand-written ideas I brainstormed, plans for the future, and reflections on past challenges. Other times, I have written extensive creative pieces that took over every waking moment and overwhelmed my senses so that I had no time or energy for daily living. But honestly, most of my days, I did not write.
Most days, I thought about writing, I considered writing, I admired writing, and I dreamed about writing, but I did not actively write. Since I have considered myself to be a writer for the past four decades, this posed an enduring problem for me. I thought of myself as a writer, I pulled on the uniform with the advertised WRITER written across the chest in red letters, but I did not actively write on a regular basis. I walked the cheater’s road and wrote when the writing came to me.
While sitting in a work meeting, I mentioned that I had not attempted to write in several months. One colleague said, “Well, that doesn’t make you much of a writer does it?” Although she did not intend the comment to come across as cruel, the punch in the gut it gave me was the blow I needed to get to work. She was right. If I was not writing, then I was not a writer. How could I be a writer if I did not write?
How could I justify calling myself a writer, teaching writing, and talking/thinking/dreaming all day long about writing but not actually put pen to paper? Clearly, I could not. I had to change my practices.
I pulled out a stack of writer’s notebooks that I had scribbled in years before and began reviewing their contents. Maybe there was a good idea for a story or an essay hidden somewhere in there that I could give literary CPR and revive to life. I dug and dug. Alas, there was not. None of the pages of my writer’s notebooks had a lively story idea in them; they contained only the dusty bones of old, dead stories.
To be a writer, I would need to write something new; I would have to create a new practice from scratch if I would be able to continue wearing that writer uniform. Since the notes from my past did not help, I needed to turn elsewhere.
I set out to find a book to get me started. The answer to every problem in existence lay somewhere in a book. I have believed that my entire life, so off to the library I headed to begin my search. While wandering the book-lined aisles of the library, at least 30 zillion books jumped out at me as holding the answer I needed to start writing. I needed to narrow my search, so I decided to stick with books on writing that I had read previously. By giving them a second read, I hoped that a flash of inspiration might push me into my writer’s desk and set me to work.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
My writing partner and I call Ray Bradbury St. Bradbury, because after reading this book, we have both been deeply moved to write, we have forgiven ourselves for the days when we did not write, and we have found the courage to delve into our writing practices after re-reading this series of essays. Bradbury shares his own experiences as a writer—how he struggled, how we worked, and how serendipitous forces came together to help him publish.
On Writing by Stephen King
Like Zen in the Art of Writing, On Writing shares the personal experiences of a professional writer—Stephen King. I have told so many people that I do not like King’s fiction but I love his nonfiction. My husband gobbled up the Dark Tower series, and I tried it as well as a few others but could never move beyond the first few chapters. King’s fiction drowns me but his nonfiction envelopes me. I so appreciated reading about his struggles, his balancing act of teaching and writing, and his many personal challenges while writing and publishing. King inspired me and got me moving.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Any time that I need a good laugh, I go to Lamott. Her nonfiction piece Bird by Bird is a lovely account of how to write, what to write, what to expect from writing, and what to focus on while writing. Lamott puts the writing life into clear context when she illuminates readers on the shortsighted visions of grandeur of publishing while losing out on the extraordinary personal and creative benefits of writing. Her focus on writers starting with a terrible first draft and getting dirty in the editing process, because it is within the editing that good writing happens spoke deeply to me. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
The 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley
I ran across Brian Kiteley’s The 3am Epiphany while taking a week-long workshop at the Iowa Writer’s Conference in Iowa City. My instructor assigned the book as part of a workshop on writing in fragments. Kiteley’s writing prompts stood out to me at first because they are unique. They forced me to look at my observational process through a different lens. I use his prompts any time that I have writer’s block, any time that I am bored with my current piece, and any time that I want to push myself to try something new.
These days, I write every day. Every. Day. Yes, that is incredibly challenging to accomplish sometimes and other times the writing comes so fast that my fingers jam in place from typing so fast. But, what I gained by facing the fact that I was not writing daily and handling the situation is that I comfortably and confidently call myself a writer.
I wear my writer’s uniform with pride and have no problem letting anyone know what I write and about my current writing projects. I wake up at 5am to write for an hour before the rest of my house wakes, and during that time I compose an average of 1000 words a day. Sometimes I write much more, and sometimes I sleep in a bit and write less, but I always write in the wee hours when only the cat and I are rustling about. Facing the knowledge that I was not following through on my own creative process has made all the difference in my practice, my work, and my writing.
If you are not writing (or not exercising or not calling your mother or not finishing some task that you know you need to do but you are putting off until the mood hits you), then I strongly recommend that you jump in. Face your challenge. Force yourself to start and to stick with it. Yes, it is hard at the beginning, but the satisfaction of a job well done is worth the effort.
About the Author
Patricia Martin, MA, MEd has spent the last two decades in school, both as an enthusiastic professional student and as an educator; her passion for education and learning is boundless. She is the author of 10 books. She teaches creative, academic, and professional writing online and in the classroom to teens and adults, including showing other teachers how to improve their practices by using creativity in the classroom. When not teaching writing or writing herself, she is always in nature—kayaking, snowshoeing, or gardening—depending on the season. She writes for Ondemandinstruction.com a website dedicated to supporting emerging writers.