The world is brimming with advice about how to write more and write better. Chances are good that you’ve explored some—or maybe even many—of these recommendations. Chances are also good that you’re not getting the kind of mileage you’d expect from adapting these approaches.
What’s in your way?
Before you can make good use of someone else’s advice, it’s important to develop a realistic picture of who you are, what your tendencies are, and what you’re realistically willing and able to change. Two key approaches can take you there.
The first is perception. You are better equipped to reach your goals when you notice with fresh and friendly eyes who you are and how you operate.
- Where do you stall and when do you take flight?
- What are you doing when you have your best ideas?
- How do you waste time?
- What writing do you admire?
- What do you want so badly that you haven’t even articulated it yet?
So many of us are so entrenched in our unconscious ways of doing and being that we have no idea what’s broken, and therefore we are not in a position to intelligently decide what needs fixing. Nor do we recognize and appreciate our gifts, our strengths, and our anchors of existing momentum. We may not even know what our true aspirations are, so we have no concrete way of striving for them or evaluating if we’re reaching them.
Simply paying attention to the way you write—and don’t write—can be the start of a sea change.
Pretend you are an anthropologist studying the culture of you. Keep a log of observations—about the behaviors, attitudes, and habits you notice as you write. Your job is not to judge, but to get clearer about who you are as a writer.
Once you’re working with an informed picture of how you write (and how you don’t), the second key to unlocking your momentum is giving yourself permission to be you. That’s right. Just because you read once that “serious” writers get MFAs or do manual labor to have more writing time doesn’t necessarily mean you are called to do the same. Maybe most poets write only poetry, but you span multiple genres. No problem. Perhaps you think you should write faster, be less stiff in front of an audience, sharpen your pencil more often. When you know yourself well, you can let go of advice about what you should be doing and spend time doing things that actually help you succeed.
While driving the other day, I caught myself in an inner monologue, chastising myself with this odd thought: Other people must be better at being happy than I am. I felt like a big disappointment on the happiness-maintenance scale. Then some part of me—I like to think it’s the Fierce Writer I’ve been cultivating all these years—interrupted this negative self-talk with the challenge: Well, so what? Let’s say that other people are actually better at being happy. What difference does that make? This is who you are. What do you intend to make of it?
Simply knowing and welcoming yourself can help you find true and enduring momentum as you let go of the strategies and attitudes that don’t fit—to make room for the ones that do.
What unfriendly things do you tell yourself that make you feel unwelcome? I propose that you release the oppression of who you believe you are supposed to be as a writer. No need to force yourself to do something the “right way” if it’s not your right way. Your job is to honor your process, your rhythms, and your voice by finding ways to put them in service to your writing life. Give yourself permission to be exactly who you are. The welcomed writing self is far more receptive to fine-tuning systems, habits, and craft. The paradox is that when you welcome the writer you are today, you clear a space in which the writer you always wanted to be can come forward.
Sage Cohen is the author of Fierce on the Page, The Productive Writer, and Writing the Life Poetic, all from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World from Queen of Wands Press.
Sage’s prize-winning poems, essays, fiction, and how-to articles have appeared in a wide range of publications including Rattle, Hip Mama; The Night, and the Rain, and the River; The Truth of Memoir; Cup of Comfort for Writers, and Writer’s Digest magazine. She has been sought out as a literary instructor, writing coach, presenter, performer, and judge.
As founder of Sage Communications, Sage has been crafting the strategies and writing the words that accelerate business for companies such as Blue Shield, American Express, and McKesson since 1997.
Sage lives in Portland, Oregon with her young son and a menagerie of animals.