Mission Impossible: the real work of writing, Finding your true motivesby Carolyn Burch
The Internet Writing Journal, December-January 2002
As a writer, it is that big leap of faith and belief in ourselves that leads us to take what is the hardest, and yet the most essential, step in becoming well-read writers. Having ideas and rough drafts and several books in the works does not make us well-read; it just makes us writers-in-training, if the works do not get published. The most essential thing is to actually start writing, and get your work out there for people to see. But there are so many stumbling blocks in the process that it is a good idea at some point to sit down and make a business plan for your writing. Oh, nothing as difficult as a business plan that a corporation might use: more of a goals and intent paper, one or two pages long, that says specifically what you want to get out of your writing, and how you intend to achieve that. Procrastination is the worst enemy of the writer, so don't hesitate, do it right now! It will only take a few minutes, but those few minutes will change your life!
Start out by writing out a list of what motivates you in life: money, children, family, home, fame, fortune, etc. Next, look deeply inside yourself for your reasons for writing. What do you most want out of your writing? Knowing that you've touches someone else's life, motivated someone, exposed an untold truth, what? What are you willing to invest to achieve this sort of lifestyle? Do you want to write steady one solid day a week, two afternoons a week, everyday after five, or full time?
When you start this list, certain patterns will emerge allowing you to know what direction your writing will be most suited to. And finding a baseline direction is the start of the rest of your career as writer.
Have you ever done that before? Sat down and really thought about your goals and motivations for writing? It's great exercise for the brain and food for the soul to think about. I like to think of this metaphor: that moving one's body in any direction starts with a thought, a simple version of a plan that goes something like "go to the fridge and get a coke because you are thirsty." This plan creates a whole range of motion in the body that starts with chemical signals traveling down your brainstem, and ends up with you at the fridge door satisfying a need. This lesson is designed to do the same thing: create movement. Movement is fundamental to writers, because we tend to talk ourselves out of things and end up with no action where there should be action. Throughout history, the most successful writers (even if not really successful in their own times) were the ones who consistently put pen to paper, and that's what you need to do. But first, setting a direction for goals that will give you reason to head out, second, conquering the ghosts that haunt and prevent you from writing, and third, making that plan agree with both sides of your brain (the moderator and the creator) is essential to undertake the real work of writing.
Writers are different, and it is important that you realize that you are among a very select few in the human population. It is estimated that only 3% of the adult population show promise in artistic testing. Of those, only 1% or less are practicing artists.
If you are like most artists, your talent as a writer is one of only a handful of unusual skills you possess. You may also paint, be very musically inclined, work in some form of creative part of society that's not usually considered as such (e.g., : construction, cooking, design, interiors, or teaching). You are also probably unusually sensitive, subject to intense emotions, and somewhat of a loner. You may even have always had the sense that you are different and displaced somehow from other people.
Your sensitivity is probably your key emotion in your psychological makeup, and has been a major part of your life decisions for as long as you remember. In addition to being emotionally sensitive, you may also be sensitive to light, sound, textures, color and vibrations. Busy patterns on wallpaper may freak you out, as may as repetitive musical combinations or a car that makes a weird chirping noise every time you turn into a driveway. Your friends are probably what you would describe as nothing like you, though you love 'em, and your family doesn't understand you. You may feel as though you were in fact dropped into your home by a literal stork, and it was the wrong home since you're an eagle and they're all pigeons.
And so it has been for all artists and writers since the beginning of time. We have all felt that way more or less (and usually more). And that's why it's especially important for us to come together and be in forums and associate with writers groups, just to be with our own tribe for some part of our week. Non-writers cannot usually understand wholly the reason why we write, or the importance of it, so often they will not encourage you as you need to be encouraged. Also, some people can only look at the saleable and not realize that there is some portion of work, generally around half of all work produced by a writer, that is not at all saleable, and yet had to be written. So those people will give you the wrong impression by criticizing your unsaleable work, which you and I know is crucial to all work. These pieces must be appreciated for what they are, mostly private introspective feelings-based pieces, often darker feelings that come free-form writing which is a release for the soul. They are there in every famous writer's work in history, provided that no well-wishing relative destroyed them to "hide the darkness" in them. Virginia Woolf, for instance, and Isak Dinesen both had extremely dark sides that were not often seen in their larger works, but were apparent in their journaling. Emerson spoke of his family in a piece where he could only "see them across a great divide, across which they cannot come to me nor I to them". And so it is essential that we accept that full half-portion of works that are not really what we're trying to produce. Tell yourself that they are okay, accept that part of yourself that writes those and put them aside. They may even be valuable (Stephen King has made a fortune from his, after all).
In a recent course I taught on writing, I asked the students what was their primary reason for writing. The number one answer on our homework was "Get it Out", which is right in tune with famous writers throughout history. Ever heard of the Muse? Well, that's him. He's the little guy you hear in the back of your head telling a story, or putting something you've seen into a colorful and eerie scene experienced from outside yourself, perhaps at the moment when you experience it, perhaps at a later time. Our top essay in the summer contest was a prime example of this phenomena, which can be seen in many of the far-reaching phrases in the work where it is experienced as a surreal setting where the writer reaches outside of himself and views a scene, relating it very effectively to the reader with all the color, sound, and feeling of the participants in the drama. Clinical psychologists studying writers would tell us that had we been able to watch this writer at work and hooked him up to some testing machines, he would have exhibited a quiet, serene look on his face, almost incoherent to his surroundings, and with a dry mouth and slightly elevated blood-pressure, while his brain waves would be almost identical to someone listening to a story and not one writing one. The muse is like that. It is most often described rationally by psychologists who understand it as a part of ourselves that is beside ourselves and, like a mirror image of ourselves who behaves like a shadow, feeds back stimulus to us pre-formatted and partially digested in order to give us a better perspective on whatever situation presents itself. For centuries this phenomena has been named "The Muse".
When I first discovered my muse, my husband thought I had a screw loose. To me, my muse seemed like a narrator in a movie, which was how I described it. Yes, I was crazy when crazy wasn't cool.
And when he saw the movie Three Faces of Eve, I think he became sure!
Hearing a muse is not a symptom of mental illness: it is in fact what makes the best writers of all, especially fiction writers. But even Nobel-prize-winning journalists covering world issues have given their muses credit for a bit of their success.
The next issue to deal with is Ghosts;they are that crucial element in writing well that we all must face in the darkness of our worlds.
By ghosts, I mean those inhibiting factors that prevent one from doing what one should be doing, because of forms of fear and rejection. There is just one thing to do with ghosts in your writing, and that is to write about them and so abolish them from consideration.
What ghosts do you harbor? A ghost is something like an unhealthy fear. Did someone once say that writers are ne'er-do-wells? Did you have a relative that died an untimely death who was also a writer? When you write, have you had family or friends make fun of you? Have you had a very bad rejection of one of your works?
That was always one of mine. I had a famous writer who lived nearby when I was a teenager read a piece of my work once. With several books and an idyllic lifestyle provided by her writing, I totally was in awe of this somewhat crotchety old lady. I worked up courage and asked her if she'd read and critique something I'd written.
She took a full week, and then called me to tell me that I really should never be a writer. My talent must "surely lie elsewhere," she told me.
Devastated, I cried for a week.
I also continued writing. But that fear, that "what if she's right?" feeling was with me for a very long time, and perhaps comes back still occasionally when I have waited for a piece to be a go and then it gets cut at the last minute, or I get more rejection slips than I have planned on in a month. So I whine a bit, and then I get on with it.
But I'll tell you this: When I have a piece like I did the beginning of the year, just a small thing, but running in a national magazine and sitting, I know for a fact, on more than a million coffee tables of people I don't know, I recall that perhaps someone thought my talent might just lie in writing after all.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to:
- Write one paragraph on how you stack up as a sensitive
person in relation to your peers.
- Then write a second paragraph on how you plan on getting into
a flow of writing. What are you going to do? Make a commitment to
yourself and your writing. Will you write in a journal every day,
write free-from twice a week, write to friends or family in letter
form, contribute essays to online magazines, what? Commit to a plan
that is doable, consistent, yet fun. Don't be too hard on yourself.
The purpose is consistency and to write, something, anything at
all, regularly. (I recommend journaling, but any of those forms
- Think about how you encourage your muse. How do you feed it,
encourage it to come out, do you listen to it when it does or
do you tell it to be quiet?
- Make some time alone each week to wait for that inner voice to
come out and play.
- Write your mission statement to yourself and your writing. Something like "I believe in myself as a writer and herby commit myself to writing something, positive or negative everyday. My mission is to write, and to get published and I will accomplish this by doing xxxxxxx."
A mission statement will set you in motion in ways you never imagined possible!
**Carolyn Burch is a freelance writer for horse publications in several breeds, as well as for Human Resources, parenting, family, and home magazines. Her work has appeared in national and international magazines, newspapers and publications in a variety of different subject matters, ranging from racism in children, to medical understanding pieces, to general news and information and service pieces. Carolyn enjoys sewing and gardening, and breeding and riding her Arabian horses in the discipline of dressage. She lives in Arizona and California with her high-school sweetheart and their four children. She recently broke the one million circulation mark with a news story she wrote. You can reach Carolyn Burch at: email@example.com. You can visit her website at: www.cornerstoneconsortium.com