I had a great idea for a new book, although come to think of it, maybe it is just a Facebook post. But it would be called Pre First Draft, and address the way we suit up and show up to be writers, artists, and general tribal-two-stomp creative types.
I think it would begin with an admonition: if you used to love writing, painting, dancing, singing, whatever, but you stopped doing it when you had kids or began a strenuous career, then you have to ask yourself if you are okay about not doing it anymore.
If you always dreamed of writing a novel or a memoir, and you used to love to write, and were pretty good at it, will it break your heart if it turns out you never got around to it? If you wake up one day at eighty, will you feel nonchalant that something always took precedence over a daily commitment to discovering your creative spirit?
If not–if this very thought fills you with regret–then what are you waiting for?
Back in the days when I had writing students, they used to spend half their time explaining to me why it was too hard to get around to writing every day, but how once this or that happens–they retired, or their last kid moved out–they could get to work.
I use to say very nicely, “That’s very nice; but it’s a total crock. There will never be a good time to write. It will never be easier. If you won’t find an hour a day now, you won’t find it then.”
It’s the same belief as thinking that once you lose weight, you’ll begin to feel good about yourself. No, you won’t. If you’re not okay with yourself at 185 pounds, you’re not going to be okay at 140. It’s an inside job.
How do you begin? The answer is simple: you decide to. Then you push back your sleeves and start writing–I.e., scribbling words down on paper, or typing at a computer. And it will be completely awful. It will be unreadable shit! You won’t have a clue how it account to anything, ever. And to that, I say, Welcome. That’s what it’s like to be a writer. But you just do it anyway. At my church, we sing a gospel song called, “Hallelujah anyway.” Everything’s a mess, and you’re going down the tubes financially, and gaining weight? Well, Hallelujah anyway.
So you decide to get back to work creatively, and you write up some thoughts or passages or memories or scenes. Then what? Then you write some more. Everywhere you go, you carry a pen, and take notes–ideas will start to come to you. You’ll see and overhear and remember things that you want to include in this mysterious quilt you’re putting together, so you jot them down. Imagine a rag-bag guy who lives inside you, who collects images, descriptions, holy moments, snippets of funny conversation, for you to use in your writing–but he doesn’t have any hands, and needs you to help him amass the rags with which you can make squares for the quilt.
That’s all you have to do today: pay attention–being a writer is about paying attention. Stop hitting the snooze button. Carry a pen with you everywhere, or else God will give me all these insights and images that were supposed to go to you. Hang up a shingle on the inside of you: now open for business. Wow! You won’t have to wake up at 70, aching with regret that you threw your creative essence under the bus. And if you already are seventy, then you won’t have to wake up at eighty, confused and in despair about how you let your gift slip away. Because you will have been writing–or dancing again, or practicing recorder–every single glorious, livelong, weird, amazing day.