In case you’d like to get a behind-the-scenes look at how I sometimes have to persuade myself, very gently and kindly, to sit down and write something–here’s a transcript of one day’s writing work (a conversation, really). See how much encouragement I need and how happy I am with even a little progress?
A leaf was falling from its tree when a little boy stopped and reached toward the sky.
The next sentence that occurs to me is the one I will begin with. All you need is a beginning and the rest will follow of its own accord. Just don’t run away too soon. Don’t worry, it’s not too scary if you just resign yourself to the circumstances and realize you’re not going to be getting out of this one, so you might as well throw in your whole soul and will.
The next step is to fashion yourself into the kind of author you’re meant to be. The way you go about doing this is simple enough: you search inside the deeper parts of yourself and find what kind of things are hanging out in that territory. Then you assemble your wits and make a fair assessment of the things you’ve observed there. For instance, if you’ve found lots of sadness and grief, you might want to remember that your writing will have a little seriousness to it, a little melancholy even when it’s lighthearted and playful. Or to take another example, let’s pretend that you have lots of childhood memories hanging about in that deep inner cavern of your psyche. Well, this means that you’re going to be a writer who has a special reverence for the things of youth, for an innocent attitude that takes joy in the simple things. Make sense? You see what I’m getting at, at least.
… [Your] voice is the product of something that’s been growing in you for a very long time. In fact, it has been growing in you since you were born, and it’s becoming ever more refined as you get older and practice a little more. You can plumb the depths of your heart and find what’s there for yourself, but in short, I think you’ll find plenty of nice things, including, chiefly, a desire to love and understand God, a desire to be united with the simple beauty of life, a playful creativity that rejoices in nonsense and fantastical wonderings, a commitment to beauty, and a desire to get to the real core, the real depth, the truth of things. Does that sound right? Indeed, child, your heart seeks to express its most fundamental feelings and experiences in ways that resonate with other people’s souls. You’re not in the business of impressing people with vain ideas; your desire is for the essence, the deeper meaning of things.
One of your biggest struggles as a writer is that you don’t stay to finish the work. I know it’s uncomfortable at times, but the greatest fruit will be yours to harvest when you stay with the work and see it through. You’re in danger of living your life in haphazard fits and starts. To prevent this, you must gently work with yourself to remain patient and persistent. It may seem difficult at first, but you’ll slowly get into the habit and the pleasure of working in an honest way will feed your soul and make you hunger for more of this fulfillment and daily ritual. Besides, you will touch more people this way, and their response will be heartening enough to keep you going along this path.
Let’s try a sample exercise, nothing too complicated.
This will be a writing activity in which you describe a person who has touched your life in some important way. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t be exhaustive here. We’re just going to focus on a few small details. We just want to catch a glimmer of this person: what their habits are like in a certain circumstance, what their eyes look like when you catch them looking at you.
OK, first we choose the person. It may be hard for you to write about –, since he carries a lot of emotional resonance for you. So let’s pick another person. Maybe —. We can try writing about — for just a few minutes. OK? Don’t worry, I’ll be here to guide you, just as I have been guiding you this whole time.
OK, let’s begin.
When the night fell and the apartment was getting quiet and hot, she stepped into her pajamas and curled up in bed. She was feeling a little unwell, more tired than usual, and her head was hurting. It wasn’t her time of the month, she was pretty sure of that. So what could it be? It was very hot in the apartment, and the windows didn’t let in much air, so it was going to be difficult to sleep. Yes, she was having trouble with her boyfriend, that’s true. He was acting a little childish again, a little taciturn. But that was nothing new. Things were getting better, on the whole, but the old itch for adventure, for seeing what else lay beyond, was impossible to ignore. So many decisions to make this year, so many possibilities and it would be hard to lay out the options in a way that could suggest an obvious choice. Her stomach was hurting a little now, too. She hadn’t felt hungry the last several days. Something was changing, but she wasn’t sure what. She took out her computer and read news stories in bed until the time for sleep came and brought her into one strange dream after another.
See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?
Rest easy, you did a good job. A good night’s work!