How I Write, #1: Who Should Write? When Should You Start?
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This course on writing, for lack of a better word,
is not intended so much to be ‘how Steve writes’, as it is to open up a discussion with anyone who happens to read my books, or blog articles, or hear me rant, rave, or just talk, on social media, and wonders why and how I do what I do, and maybe wants to write something themselves or has already done so, but wants to learn more about doing it, which includes myself.
Don’t write a run-on sentence/paragraph like the first one in this blog post. It’s too fuckin’ long, kind of like something Cicero would have composed, except that it isn’t quite as elegant, and I didn’t wait until the end of the sentence to give you the main verb.
I have to thank a friend of mine from Anchor, Bobby Kountz, for suggesting that I do this series as a discussion on that social media platform — which I will be doing in conjunction with posting longer-form here on the blog — as well attempting to use some other newer social media (and old) to bring as many people into the dialogue as possible. Please look me up on Facebook, Anchor, SnapChat, and Periscope, to chime in, ask questions, share your tips and advice, and generally have an awesome time! So here we go:
Who Should Write?
I just answered the first question with the second one. Everyone should write. Yeah, I said it. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you’re considering writing — and I’m sure you are, since you’re reading this:
- Have you ever been compelled to speak about something you thought was important?
- Have you ever really fucked that up because your thoughts weren’t straight in your own mind before you opened your trap?
If the answer to either one, or both of those questions, was ‘yes’ — and I suspect that you, like myself, have to admit to both — then you should be writing.
Why Should You Write?
Because there’s not a better way to learn to ‘think’, than to write. Writing forces you to get your thoughts out of your head, where you can look at them more critically. You can see what you’re really thinking, once it’s on the page, and sometimes that’s a startling discovery, for sure. Take my post on My Dysfunctional Relationship with Money, for example.
When I sat down to write that piece, I had no idea, not really, what was going to come out of my mind, through my fingers, the keyboard, and onto that white screen on my laptop. Some pretty toxic shit was the result. But I got it out! Once it’s on the page, you can step back, go pour a stiff bourbon, take a walk, have sex, smash your head with a hammer, whatever trips your trigger, and then come back later to look at it with fresh, drunk, or concussed eyes.
Then the real work begins. You get to reorganize your thoughts, to edit them. And while you’re doing that, you’re learning how you think, and getting those thoughts into some kind of logical order. That tends to limit the mistakes. I say limit, not eliminate! It is in the second, and subsequent drafts that a great deal of the magic occurs. But without the first draft, there are no more drafts. Ernest Hemingway (speaking of bourbon and smashing your head) once said — or at least I think he said it — that “there are no great writers, only great re-writers.” And that leads to the answer for Question #2:
When Should You Start Writing?
Right. Fucking. Yesterday! The great Chinese sage and teacher, Confucius — I’m not entirely sure it was Confucius who said this, but I’m going with it anyway — once had a student come to him and ask him the following question:
“Master,” the student asked, “When is the best time to plant a tree?”
“Twenty years ago,” the great and imminent sage replied. The student went away for awhile to contemplate — that’s what always happens in these Tao-y, Zen-y, Confucius-y stories — and returned sometime later to ask the obvious followup. Who knows why it took him so long to return. Hell if I know, I’m just a fat, white guy from North Carolina, living in St. Paul.
“Master,” the student began, “When is the next best time to plant a tree?”
“Today,” Confucius said.
So the time to begin writing, is yesterday, but since yesterday doesn’t exist — nor did it ever — then the best time to start is IMMEDIATELY!
Shouldn’t you organize your thoughts first? Shouldn’t you figure out what it is you want to say? Shouldn’t you do the laundry and the dishes first?
No, no, no, and hell no.
Just fuckin’ write. Sit down, and start typing, or writing with a pen, or chisel — if your name is Fred Flintstone–but just write. It doesn’t even matter what you write about, not in the least. Just write from a stream of consciousness, or about whatever is in your mind in that moment. Just write, damn it.
The reason to start now, is because there’s never gonna be a good time to start, and because that thing you’re waiting for, that you think all writers wait for, all artistes, isn’t going to drop down out of the sky and smack you on the forehead like in a scene from the Blues Brothers movie.
What am I talking about? Inspiration.
The great Bug-a-boo of all creative types, and the one thing that has probably killed more great ideas than anything in history.
The great inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, once said, “Success is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” In other words, the inspiration doesn’t fall out of the sky; it’s CREATED just by doing the work. This comes from the guy who tried 10,000 different ways to make a light bulb, before hitting on the one that worked. People give him credit for that last one, but it was all the other failed attempts that actually led to the success.
What the hell does that have to do with writing?
Everything. If you want to think straight, speak clearly, be understood, and win friends and influence people, then you need to write. In order to be any good at it, you have to — wait for it — fucking WRITE! You’re not gonna sit down, start typing — after some lightning bolt from heaven splits your skull — and all of a sudden write Of Mice and Men, or The Lord of the Rings! It doesn’t happen that way. Steinbeck and Tolkien didn’t write those masterpieces that way, and neither will you!
And even if you just want to write a better grocery list, you’d better spend some time actually scribbling down what you need for dinner, or you’re gonna come home with 15 frozen pizzas, and forget the bag of ice for your bourbon (I do that shit all the time).
How to get started.
Pick a time of the day, one hour, at least 5 days a week, sit down with no distractions. Lock the door; turn off the cell phone, and Facebook, and write. Write like mad for one hour each day. Eventually, you’ll write something worth a second draft, and a third. And before long, you’ll have something pretty damned cool: maybe even a book.
READ ON! Part 2: Keep Writing, Outrun the Demons of Doubt
Steve Bivans is the author of the best-selling Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth: the Guide to Sustainable Shire Living,
and is working on his second book, The End of Fear Itself. You can find him, and subscribe to his email list at www.stevebivans.com.
Originally published at www.stevebivans.com on April 10, 2016.