Today’s writing tip is not so much about craft as it is about being a writer and living the writer’s life. I have struggled with this all of my life thus far and imagine it will be a struggle for me the rest of my life too. It comes from the book Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo. Dennis is a psychotherapist who specializes in creativity issues. But before that (and still) he is an author and a screenwriter, most notably of the film “My Favorite Year,” and a staff writer for the ABC-TV series “Welcome Back, Kotter,”. So he knows this struggle well.
When I went to my office bookshelves this morning to look for a writing tip, I looked for a book with lots of little notes sticking out of the side. The book has so many that I could quote from it alone for the rest of the year. But I decided to share what I most needed to be reminded of at this time of my life and career and that’s what Palumbo calls the Three Hard Truths of writing. He devotes a full chapter to this in his book but I’ll just give you the highlights.
“The First Hard Truth: Writing is a craft, as well as an art, and that craft takes time to develop.”
He reminds us that we need to spend a lot of time writing as well as letting go of what we have written. “Time . . . page after page, draft after draft. month after month, year after year. Scenes and more scenes, characters and events and images, discarding and changing and shuffling and reshuffling, and throwing it all out and starting over again.”
Next is, “The Second Hard Truth: With every new project, you have to teach yourself how to write it.”
He explains, “The script or novel or play you wrote last year, or last month, can’t help much, regardless of its similarities in style or context to the new project. For one thing, you’re in a different place emotionally, creatively, perhaps even professionally.”
He goes on to say, “This is not, by the way, a bad thing. In fact, it’s the lifeblood of creativity, this always-newness.”
Finally he shares, “The Third Hard Truth: Writing carries no guarantees. You can never know how a piece of writing will turn out – whether it’ll be any good, whether anyone will like it, whether it will ever be sold. Writing, to put it flatly, is all about risk.”
This is what I needed to be reminded of today. It is about a joy in the process and being willing to put in the time and take the risks just to have the chance to soar. I needed to be reminded of my own process. First I throw myself at a project with all the enthusiasm of a new puppy, tumbling all over myself in the excitement to CREATE. Next I become convinced I can’t do it, that I am not writer enough, that my ideas are boring and been done to death and that I might as well give it all up and just be happy for what I have published so far in my life. Finally (and sometimes this takes years on a project) I reach the point where I just DO IT.
But it is hard because, as Palumbo says, it is all about risk.