It’s Friday, writer’s workshop day, and today I’ll be talking about the five ways that living our best chapter will help us to write our best chapter – and vice versa. We don’t have to be miserable to write well. Writing — and living — are meant to bring us joy.
1 – “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
― E.L. Doctorow
I want to see around corners! Both in my life and in my writing. I want to peer past the headlights into the unknown. But we sometimes have to stay in the question. We have to live in the mystery.
In writing, we have to keep going. We might have a vague idea how the plot will go but we have to keep writing, keep moving our hand across the page, keep tapping our on the keyboard. We have to trust that when we get to tomorrow, we will have the tools needed to take care of tomorrow. And when we get to the next page, we will be able to use our imagination and creativity to fill up the blank space.
2 – We can create a whole world for ourselves.
We can use magic. I always think of Harry Potter and as my friend, Joelle, pointed out to me, Harry’s life was magical. Not just the magic wand part but how he overcame being an orphan and living with his cruel aunt and uncle and managed to become a hero. (I still haven’t read the very last book so whatever you do, please don’t tell me what happens. In some ways, I don’t want to find out.)
We must make magic when we write. We can draw from our imagination to create a new scene, a whole world. We can dream up a house we never lived in and describe what it must be like to sit in the rocking chair in the sun room, or lie on a bed with a lumpy mattress on a second floor near where a weeping willow scratches against the window.
In life, too, we can use our imagination to be creative problem solvers.
3 – We don’t know how our story will end.
We don’t know our final chapter. We don’t know how we’re going to die. We don’t know if cancer will eat away our pancreas or we’ll get hit by an SUV or we’ll have a sudden heart attack while playing tennis early one morning in a park where our kids used to play.
If we’re writing well, we’re totally focused in the moment. We don’t know what our characters might suddenly decide to do. In my latest novel, Downturn, one of my characters surprised his wife and did something drastic. He surprised me, too.
Same goes for life. People we love do surprising things beyond our control. The same thing works for the people we create in our heads. Let them all live it up. We don’t want marionettes — unless, of course, we’re putting on a marionette show.
4 – Don’t worry so much about mistakes.
Don’t worry about punctuation in the first round. Don’t worry about grammar. Don’t worry what your mother might think. Don’t worry if your tenth grade teacher said that you were a bad student. Don’t let anyone live rent-free in your head.
Just write. Just write. Just live. Just live. Live and write without any critical voices in your head. Live well, write well. As Natalie Goldberg said, “We are good and therefore we are capable of shining forth…”
Not only in our writing but in our lives. Not only in our lives but in our writing.
5 – I got an email from a writer who had written the first chapter of his novel and was already showing it around and waiting for responses. Maybe he wanted approval to keep going. Maybe he needed outside cheerleaders to get out their pompoms and give him a rah-rah. I told him his writing was good but it was more important that he keeps going. The “good” wasn’t the point. The point was doing the work. I said, “Don’t be worried about the outcome. Just focus on the output.”
He said, “But I want it to be good.”
We have no guarantees that our writing will be good. We have no guarantees that our lives will be good. We can’t keep waiting for the approval, for the guarantee, for the All-OK before we move forward. We have to start somewhere, which is right here, right now, with all we have. We have to write as fast as we can, as much as we can, just like we have to live the best as we can.
And if you do need someone cheering you on when you go deep into that dark cave, where you’re lost and lonely and don’t understand what it is that you’re trying to do, then lean on my belief in you and your creativity, your energy, your resourcefulness. Lean on my belief that each of us is making music to contribute to the whole grand symphony. You must play your part. Nobody else can do that for you except you.