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Stein wrote, "To write is to write is to write is to write is to
write." Who can say what she meant (she also wrote, "A rose is a rose
is a rose"), except perhaps exactly what she wrote: that writing is all
and everything of it, the beginning and the end. That to write is to
write. We just do it. How to get started writing? Write. How to keep
Sadly, for many of us it just isn't that simple. We have trouble
getting started, we have trouble keeping the pace and too often, we
simply give up or our enthusiasm and determination trickle away, like a
stream petering out. But because writing is in our hearts and souls and
DNA, after a few weeks or months or even years, we're back at it again.
More determined than ever that, this time, we'll stay with it. Maybe we
do and maybe we don't. In my experience as a teacher, more often than
not people don't stay with it. For some, the cycle repeats and repeats.
Because we can't keep the thing going, we begin to judge ourselves
failures at writing, our self-esteem goes the way of our tossed out
pages, and after a while, it becomes more and more difficult to begin
This is heartbreaking. Because we are writers and when we aren't being
fully and wholly ourselves--when a piece of ourselves is missing--we
can never feel at home in the world or at peace within ourselves.
Writing is who we are. Not all of who we are, but enough of who we are
that when we're not writing, we're not whole.
Until you name yourself Writer, you will never be a writer who writes
(and keeps writing). Most writers I know, especially those who have not
published, say "I want to be a writer." Or "I'm a [fill in the blank]
and I like to write." Or "I've always dreamed of being a writer." But
they don't actually call themselves a writer. Think of all the other
names you give yourself: man/woman, mother/father, wife/husband,
friend, teacher, technician, masseuse, lawyer, gardener, chef. We take
each of these names as a way of identifying ourselves, both to others
and to ourselves. We are what we say we are. In some cultures, new
names are assumed when character-evolving events take place. These
names indicate the person has been transformed.
If you announce you are a writer, rather than simply mouthing that you
want to be or you'd like to be, you may be transformed. Try it. Right
now. Speak your name out loud followed by, "I'm a writer." Let yourself
experience the sensations you feel when you sound out the words. "But I
haven't been published yet," you might say, as if this were the thing
that would give you the right to call yourself writer. After all, when
you tell people you're a writer, don't they always ask, "OK, and what
have you published?" Listen to this: Being published doesn't have
anything to do with being a writer! It has to do with earning money as
a writer. Maybe. Getting some kind of validation and recognition,
perhaps notoriety and fame. Though truth be told, the majority of
published writers don't earn all that much money or notoriety or fame.
We might say, to be published is to be published is to be published. To
be sure, getting published is the aim of many of us. After all, we
write to communicate, and having an audience is the flip side of the
communication coin. But it is not the reason we write. We write because
it is what we must do. Anne Sexton said, "When I am writing I am doing
the thing I was meant to do."
Besides, once we are published, this doesn't mean we will stop writing.
We will continue to write. This is what writers do. I have this vision
of me at my writing table, a fat roll of butcher's paper at one end and
a take-up reel with a crank at the other end. The paper just keeps
passing beneath my pen and I just keep writing. As the old joke goes,
"Old writers never die, they just keep revising the ending."
How do you claim yourself as writer? First, say it. "I'm a writer." Say
it out loud. Say it to yourself in the mirror. Say it to your friends
and family. Say it to the next person you meet at a party who asks,
"What do you do?" Say it to a stranger in line at the grocery store.
Say it to your mother. Mostly, say it to yourself: "I'm a writer."
Make a place for your writing, a sacred place where you go with joy as
your companion, not dread or guilt or "shoulds" riding your shoulders
like weights of sand. If you don't already have a room or specific
place, make one. Take up a whole room or a section of a room. Before
she created her own studio, my friend Wendy used a screen to separate
her writing place from the rest of the living room. If the only place
you can free up for your writing is part of a table, sometimes, when
you're not eating on it, then make it a special place. When you go
there for your writing, bring along a candle or lamp or some flowers,
anything that transforms the space from the quotidian to the unique.
Make it important and make it yours however you can. Claim the space.
Get the tools you need. Honor your writing with the kind of paper or
notebook you like; buy your favorite pens by the box or spend a bundle
on the Waterman or Mont Blanc you've always wanted. Have a computer
that belongs to you--not one you have to share--and a good printer.
It's amazing what just printing out your writing using a laser jet
printer will do to make it look--and you feel--professional. Get a good
dictionary, thesaurus, and stylebook. Find books on the craft and
subscribe to writing journals.
Hang out with other writers. Go to readings and book signings, open
mikes. Communicate with other writers. Drop a not to someone whose book
you admire and tell them (not in a gushy, fan magazine kind of way, but
as one writer to another). Sign up for workshops and conferences. Get
in a group.
Read as a writer. Learn from the best. Study your favorite authors, and
copy passages into your notebook to get the feel of their rhythm and
style. Deconstruct their sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters to
discover their techniques and their secrets. Read the work aloud and
discuss the books with your writer friends. Next to the act of writing
itself, reading good writing will be your best teacher.
This article was excerpted with permission from from Writing
Alone, Writing Together copyright 2002 by Judy Reeves,
published by New World Libary, Novato, California. Available in stores
or at www.newworldlibrary.com.
For more information about Judy Reeves, please visit her website at www.judyreeveswriter.com
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