What does it take to be a good writer? It’s simple: write a lot.
Before you get overwhelmed, here’s the even more important thing: care.
When you care— when you want to say something, want to allow some message or story to come through you— and you sit down to write on a fairly predictable schedule, writing becomes not about coming up with something, about generating anything. Writing is just getting out of the way.
If you want to be a good writer, master the art of getting out of the way.
What does this look like?
Yesterday I sat at my desk and called my writing buddy, Katie. We check in a few days a week during my son’s afternoon nap.
“What are you going to work on today?” Katie asks.
“I’m going to write a chapter for my book. What about you?”
“I’ve got an article due.”
We agree to check back in in an hour. In the meantime, I will not clean my studio, take a nap, or do push-ups (I’m not likely to do the latter anyway). Having an hour and the accountability of a writing buddy makes it easier to do what I say I’m going to do: write.
But when I scanned the notes and chapters in my current project, I felt stuck. Nothing jumped out at me. When this happens, I free write. I do a “Write About” or a “Brain Dump.”
When the story doesn’t flow out of me, I have to make room, clear the channel.
I don’t generally enjoy this. Yesterday I felt pretty pissy about it. I could hear my husband splitting wood across the yard, and I was annoyed about that. My chair wasn’t comfortable enough and I threw a little fit about that.
Then I put my hands to the keys and started writing all that, rather than thinking it.
This is the key to getting past feeling stuck: write your way through it.
No matter how certain I am that whatever I’m thinking is all there is, once I start putting it into print/Times New Roman/Helvetica, more comes out.
Yesterday I spent the whole hour doing this, just flushing the system, writing very little about the story, mostly griping and worrying about my life. But most days I’m running a littler cleaner than that, and after 500-1,000 words I start asking questions about the story. And I start getting answers, ideas. I get excited and inspired.
And then I write.
Writing to clear the channel is the way I get to always write from inspiration: When I’m inspired, I can jump right into the story. When I’m not inspired, I write stream of consciousness until I aminspired. And then I write the story.
This is how good writing is easy.
Stories come from somewhere. They are like spirits hovering close, tapping you on the shoulder (or pummeling you like a child in the womb). Your job/task as a writer is to do whatever it takes to easily and clearly hear them. Then all you’re doing, as Julia Cameron says, is “taking dictation.”
So, if you want to write well, start writing. Let the gunk come out. I promise you that if you keep writing long enough, the water will run clear, and you will be able to take a long, cool, life-giving drink. And your stories will pass that gift on to others.
p.s. What do you wish you could write? (Do you know what stops you?)