Why Is It So Hard to Sustain a Writing Practice?

Whether your goal is daily journaling, weekly blogging, plotting the next Great American novel, or becoming the poet laureate of your local coffee house, sustaining a writing practice can be as difficult as maintaining a daily exercise regimen. Why is that?

1. No one needs it but you. How can you prioritize something that seems to hold value for no one but yourself? Your writing practice isn’t going to knock on the door in the middle of the night, demanding your attention. Your writing practice doesn’t send you a monthly bill, demanding payment. Your writing practice does not expect you to fill that empty chair in the office by 8:00 a.m. every day. Your writing practice isn’t going to ask you to feed it eight times a day.

In fact, you may be so caught up in responding to the requirements of adulthood and to other people’s needs that you cannot even hear your own voice calling you. But you carry a dull ache somewhere in your body, a vague notion that you’re ignoring something important.

You may have forgotten how good it feels to explore freely your imagination, your innermost thoughts, that well of emotion you carry deep within, and let it all spill over into a notebook or onto a screen. You may have forgotten how writing leaves you feeling so open, so awake and alive, so fully present and expressed. You may have forgotten how that writing mojo energizes every area of your life.

But if you remember that — the energy writing gives you — maybe you’ll entertain the possibility that, actually, your writing practice could benefit everyone who depends on you. Still, the accountability falls to you: you need to value your writing practice enough to give it the time, energy, and attention it needs. How about it? Are you ready to value your own desires, needs, and goals?

2. Social Engineering. Our culture values the product over the process; the camera-ready surface over the deep, messy truth; the quick fix over the slow pace of healing, creating, learning, growing. There’s no space in that product-driven, surface-y quickness for the deep, quiet, messy, slow work of writing.

To commit to a writing practice is to press your ear to the ground and listen for the sound of roots growing. To commit to a writing practice is to reverse the grain of social conditioning and operate differently. To commit to a writing practice is to release the habit of busy-ness, to interrupt the addiction to distraction, to cease the reach for easy entertainment, and to sink down into the murky depths of you.

Lao Tzu asked:

Do you have the patience to wait

Till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

Till the right action arises by itself?

Do you? Can you? When you do this — when you find the patience to wait, to remain unmoving, to listen for and actually to hear what your heart and soul and gut have been whispering all long — you will see that to commit to a writing practice is to stage a profound revolution. (Maybe that’s why we avoid it? Maybe that’s why it feels so scary?)

3. Writer Prototypes. A writer has a cabin in the woods, a penchant for solitude, and time to watch raindrops trail down windowpanes. Or a writer has a steady date with a barstool in a dive bar, a running tab, an overflowing ashtray, a collection of poems scrawled on whiskey-stained napkins. Or a writer is a bohemian free spirit who left everything behind, built a yurt on a seaside cliff, and lives life one poem at a time.

Do you fit any of these descriptions? No? Don’t worry. Most writers don’t.

While these writer prototypes might (or might not) make good fodder for Hollywood blockbusters, they’re not helpful role models for people who want to build and sustain a writing practice.

These prototypes perpetuate the notion that to become a writer, you have to make significant changes to your life. You don’t. Well, at least not the “win the lottery” or “quit your job” or “drop the kids off at Grandma’s and don’t look back” types of changes you’d have to make to match Hollywood’s writer prototypes.

In order to become the writer you want to be, you need to do one thing: you need to write.

You need to jot down notes while standing in line at the grocery store. You need to plot stories in your mind while plodding along at your mundane, (almost) pays-the-bills job. You need to bust out your laptop in your car, while waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice. You need to wake up fifteen minutes before the rest of your family does to pour your early morning thoughts into your journal.

You don’t need to overhaul your life. You need to show up in it, as it is. You need to Write Where You Are.

Not when the kids grow up, or when you retire, or when your aging uncle finally kicks it and leaves his secret millions to you, but now. You need to start now.

When you stop waiting for ‘someday’ and dedicate yourself to beginning a writing practice now — however small, even just ten minutes, once a week — eventually the writing practice will take over. Eventually, if you stick with it, your writing practice will change your life.

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Start Now: Leave the Dishes in the Sink, and Write Where You Are[/caption]

Hey, are you starting, restarting, or sustaining a writing practice? Follow Write Where You Are for tips on, reflections from, and inspirations for living a creative life.

Photo Credit: Cheryl Dumesnil