On Writing

YOU GUYS! It worked!

I have been doing Morning Pages religiously since June. By religiously, I mean that even when I was teaching every day from 7 AM to 10:30 PM, I would get up half an hour early to write. Why? Well, blind faith, mostly. Faith in Julia Cameron, faith in the principles behind her book The Artist’s Way, and faith in the basic principle of education: do anything long enough, and you’ll get better at it.  

And long story short, it worked.

self-expression is self-love

Rewind twenty-four hours: I have just decided to submit a piece of writing to the internationally-known website elephant journal. (If you haven’t heard of them, check it out. Waylon is the man.) I sit down to read their submission guidelines. No big deal: this many words, this kind of formatting, can’t have been published anywhere else... including your own blog.

Ruh-roh. This means that I can’t take my most popular blog entry, spruce it up, and send it on over. I have to write a fresh piece for elephant. This is only a big deal because of the pressure that I’ve applied to the situation, which is never present when I write for myself. Here are the steps I take when writing for my own blog:

  1. Wake up and write three pages of longhand script, recording thoughts as they twinkle by.

  2. Move around. Stretch, work out, go on a walk, jog to the grocery store and back, or dance like a maniac in the living room.

  3. Drink a huge glass of water, sometimes two.

  4. Shower, eat some vegetables.

  5. Write.

  6. Send my draft to my editor, review her edits.

  7. Publish it.

Everything that happens before writing is just stuff I’ve told myself I must do to meet the muse. It’s just a story—the reality is the only thing I need to do in order to write is sit down and write.

The only thing I need to do in order to write is sit down and write.

But let’s go back in time again, to the moment after I realized I had to write an article especially for elephant journal. I felt this enormous load of pressure settle onto my head, spewing thoughts like, “This article has to be special; it has to be the right article. I have to craft it with my audience in mind,” and so on. I proceeded to make a list of what I’d need to do to write this article:

  1. Read lots of articles on elephant’s website. Notice the comments, record what people are looking for.

  2. Brainstorm a list of topics, and share them with my sister, Mettie June, who also happens to be my editor and an avid reader of ej.

  3. Confer with her about what topic would be best suited to the site, and then outline that article.

  4. Send my outline back to Mettie for feedback.

  5. Draft an article based on the agreed-upon outline.

  6. Send my draft to Mettie, review her edits.

  7. Send the edited version to every reader and writer that I know personally, asking for feedback.

  8. Spend an eternity trying to take everyone’s feedback to heart.

  9. Look over ej’s submission guidelines again, double check my piece.

  10. Wait until I am absolutely sure it is perfect, and then submit.

Truly, that I was what I planned to do. I even wrote out all those steps in my to-do list—I could show you! Obviously, I was terrified by my new list, so I sent one short email to my editor, explaining what I was planning to do, and then shut down for the night.

The next morning, I completed this variation of my usual routine:

  1. Wake up and write three pages, recording my thoughts.

And I wrote the outline for the perfect article for ej. I just wrote it. I was thinking, and I recorded those thoughts, and they just happened to be perfect. I wrote three whole pages of outline, so there wouldn’t be a lot of filling in to do.

I realized how so many of my rituals are created out of resistance.

Then I went for a walk, because it was a beautiful morning and I did actually need to get some exercise. I realized how so many of my rituals are created out of resistance. I thought about the enormous divide between “preparing to be a writer” and “writing.” While my morning routine feeds my soul in a divine way, the routine itself is not writing. The only thing I ever need to do in order to write is:

  1. Sit down.

  2. Write.

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