Yesterday on Twitter, someone tweeted something like, “Are you still not writing even though others have told you that you should be? Good. Writing should come out of yourself.” I read and re-read those sentences several times, trying to decide why they bothered me. I didn’t totally disagree – I know that the writing that is most true wells up from the deepest part of a person, so on some level, I agree that writing had to come from myself.

But in a more profound, frustrated way, I completely disagree with this tweet. Writing doesn’t just “come” fully formed like Athena from Zeus’ skull. Writing takes work, hard work. Statements like this tweet make it too easy for people to revert the “I wasn’t inspired” mantra that has kept many an artist from producing any work. Anyone that wants to produce anything has to practice, daily is best, and do so whether they feel inspired, touched by the muse, energetic or whatever.

I hear my students say these things often. I just didn’t know what to write about. I didn’t have anything to say about that. I just wasn’t “feeling” it. I want to take them by the shoulders and say, “So what? Do you think that Van Gogh was always ‘feeling’ it when he painted? Does Margaret Atwood wait around for inspiration when she’s writing? Do you think that every day I actually wake up with a perfectly formed blog post to write?” Of course not. We do this out of discipline because it is what we do – it is our job. No less than any one else who has to go to work every day even when they don’t feel like it writers have to sit down and put the pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and just do it. Some days that writing is great – like climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing the world peeled fresh before you – but most days it’s like driving to the local strip mall and sitting in a hot parking lot – brutal and uninspiring. But we do it anyway.
'Strip mall' photo (c) 2008, Chika Watanabe - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I get it. Writing is hard, it’s lonely, it’s not always that rewarding. I’ve had my own fair share of avoidance techniques, ones that, as a blogger, are notably public. I, too, have said that this must be “a time away from writing” or “I must just need to let things settle until they’re ready to germinate.” This second one is true, but just because one idea needs more time doesn’t mean I get to walk away from writing. This craft doesn’t work like that. Nope, to be a writer I only need to do one thing – write – and yet it is the thing I take the most trouble to get out of. I need help to keep going; that’s why I read and talk with other writers.

If you need help, find something to get you started (I recommend this source of Writing Prompts from Writer’s Digest.). Ask a friend for ideas (my friend Jansen of The Driving Farce recommended this idea today). Read something, pick a line that stands out to you, and start writing by copying out that sentence (Currently, I’m making my way through poet Julia Kasdorf‘s collectionSleeping Preacher.). Do something, anything, to get your fingers and your mind moving into the space where you find words and form sentences.

So while I’m not a big fan of the word “should” , I’m going to be one of those people who tells you that you should be writing. If you want to be a writer, stop giving yourself excuses, stop finding ways to ignore your calling and deny your craft, stop saying it’s writer’s block or a slump, just stop. Instead, just write. It’s as simple – and as hard – as that.