As a writing coach, I often hear people say that they want to begin working on the book they've been thinking about for a long time.
They think that if they "take time off from work," they might be able to get started. Sometimes they do this -- and yet the book never really gets rolling.
You don't need time off. All you need is a change of mind and mood.
The following four methods come from writers whose work I really admire, and all of them, interestingly, also apply to questions of "getting in the mood" for that other activity we often fantasize about -- sex.
1. Just start already.
Laraine Herring, in her essay "Writing is not like Making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich," from her book The Writing Warrior, reminds us that writing is not a matter of assembling ingredients.
Once when I was on a book tour, a woman who had obviously enjoyed the reading and mini-workshop came up to me afterwards and said, "What's your advice for writing a novel?"
I said, "Tell me a bit more."
She said, "Well, I took a class on novel writing, and we did character sketches and plot outlines, and so much prep work that when it came time to write, I was bored and couldn't start."
Exactly. Laraine Herring reminds us not to get bogged down in the planning and prep work. Instead, she advises, "Just start already. The world is hungry for what only you can create."
Janet Conner's essay "Want to Write Like Mozart?" in the anthology, Audacious Creativity, encourages writers to reach the theta state before -- and eventually during -- writing. According to Conner, theta brain waves are slower, and the most creative. You may have felt them in meditation or during that half awake, half dreaming state upon waking.
To reach the theta state, Conner, says you must:
1. be alone
2. be unstressed
So do what you have to do to get there, and then begin. Don't wait. Take some deep breaths. Turn off all the screens and bells. And begin.
3. Don't criticize during the act.
The beloved Natalie Goldberg created "The Rules of Writing Practice," which can be found in her book, Wild Mind, and these comprise the cornerstones of much of my practice.
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Lose control.
3. Be specific.
4. Don't think.
5. Don't worry about punctuation, grammar or spelling.
6. You are free to write junk.
7. Go for the jugular.
I often sum these up by saying, "Writing is like sex. Keep moving. Go with the flow. And don't criticize during the act."
4. Focus on the feelings that take you where you want to go.
In the creativity coach Eric Maisel's book, Brainstorm, co-written with his wife, Ann Maisel, there is an essay called "Productive = Work" in which they discuss the fact that just because you are obsessed about something or love something doesn't mean it will come easily.
Writing means working.
I was talking with a client about this the other day. She is working on finishing a book by a deadline and she is feeling a lot of anxiety about it. One of the things that Brainstorm so wisely reminds us is just because you have anxiety and feel that something is hard doesn't mean you are actually making any progress.
In fact, if you take Herring, Conner, and Goldberg together, the important thing is to learn to relax and not let your anxieties get in the way.
Writing is similar to making love. While making love, you focus on the external sensations that occur without getting distracted by the mundane thoughts that stray into the mind. While writing, you keep writing and following your hands across the page or keyboard and let distracting thoughts pass without reacting to them. During both sex and writing, you can let the feelings that deepen the experience flow without engaging in the ones that take you away.
Just as you cannot become adept at making love by thinking about it, you will not be successful as a writer by allowing your thoughts and feelings about writing to stand in for the writing practice itself.
And the good news is that if you follow these four strategies, writing, like sex, can have a very happy ending.