You can choose to set on a path of writing, but you become a writer by doing it daily–even when it’s hard, even when it’s crap, even when nobody is listening.
My friend Jess wrote that the other day. Jess, who sent me a message via the contact form on my blog almost four years ago and said, “I’m 21 years old and I am an English Literature Major at New Mexico State University, and I want so badly to write. I really just don’t know where to start.”
Fast forward four years and Jess is one of those super humans who teaches and writes and is starting her master’s program.
(Clearly, this is also a shameless plug for her blog.)
(And for anything else she ever does in life.)
Jess is doing the thing I stopped doing years ago. Ironically, it’s also the thing she and I talked about four years ago: “Practically, when it comes to writing and increasing your circle of influence, I’ve found that the best place to start is wherever you are. I think the best thing you can do is write every day.”
It’s kind of unfortunate when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes you on a road trip and reveals that you were a whole lot wiser a few years back. It’s like getting shorter as you get older. It’s just disappointing.
Here’s the thing: when writing became my full-time job, I stopped writing for myself and as myself. That was a really terrible idea. At several points along the way I realized that was a really terrible idea, but my attempts to get back on the personal writing bandwagon all ended in failure. This was due to a bunch of factors, not the least of which being that when you stop writing like yourself, you start forgetting what you sound like. It’s kind of like having writing voice amnesia.
I started reading Bird by Bird again for the dozenth time and yesterday Anne Lamott told me, in no uncertain terms, how to resolve this conflict:
Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined moments come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well go ahead and get started.
For two whole (weekday) mornings in a row, I’ve gone ahead and gotten started. It doesn’t seem at all too soon to tell you about it because how could I ever break a streak as substantial and fortified as 48 hours? Be that as it may, I’m waking up at 5:30am to become conscious enough to actually write from 6-7am so I can actually go to work at 8am.
To clarify: I don’t foresee anything I write at that hour being publishable. My sense of humor is in direct correlation with the amount of coffee I’ve consumed, and the same goes for my general grasp on the English language. The goal is to start something. That’s all. And hopefully by starting something in the morning, I’ll have something that feels manageable later in the day. Kind of like putting a chicken in the Crock-pot before you leave for work. It’s so nice to come home and know all you have to do is put the other pieces together—maybe some side dishes or a drink—the fun parts of the meal. The hard part is already done.
The hard part for me, and maybe for you, too, has always been starting. But it’s good to remember that starting isn’t impossible. It’s just a long road paved with a lot of ugly bricks. They’re laid questionably, one at a time, with all the awkward forward progress of a newborn fawn. But eventually a road comes together, if not with precision than at least with a little lopsided character.