If you’ve ever seen me draw a dog, you know – I have no visual artistic ability. My dogs look like cows from space.*

But when I was a kid, I could draw even the most elaborate sketches. Once, I drew a cowboy on a bucking bronc. I was so proud.

It was one of those gridded sketches that came in the crossword puzzle books my mom got us for road trips. I would sit down and draw exactly what I saw in each grid – one square at a time – and in a couple of hours, I had a cowboy with hat, stirrups, and all.

Writing is like this. We don’t always know exactly what the picture will be, but we can start with one square and write what we know there. (Think Anne Lamott’s small picture frame.)  Each day, as we write more, the shape of the thing comes together, and in time, we see a full picture where there was none before.**

Our problem is when we think that writing is like one of those big felt coloring boards where we just have to fill in the spaces between the black and white. We think we should know exactly where we’re going when we start out, that if we have a full picture the writing will be easier, right-er, more correct. But the problem with this method of writing is that it’s tedious, and we didn’t draw the picture anyway.  The most exciting, freshest writing – like the most exciting lives – don’t follow an outline and have no idea where they’ll end up.

Still, though, we think we want this sketch all done before we start. If we just think, or outline, or study more before we begin, then, when we start, it’ll be easy. The problem is that all this thinking keeps us from beginning at all.

Writing is not about thinking, at least not mostly.  Writing is about doing, about feeling, about exploring. It’s about taking what each day gives us and sketching it out.

Our desire to figure out where we are going is fear-driven. It’s about control. It’s about power. But to write, we have to give up some of that power and just let go.  There is no place for fear on the page. We have to be bold and a little reckless. 

So we have a choice to make. We can play at this writing thing and do all the “writer-like” things we do – reading books and talking about writing and planning our writing projects. OR we can write and find that we create not just cowboys but castles and our childhood homes and boats where tigers ride.

I’m taking the cowboys and the tigers.

What holds you back from writing? What do you overthink? What do you fear? 

*I have no desire to be a visual artist, so I’m okay with this. But if I wanted to be one, the first thing I’d do – practice. I’d draw hundreds of space cows.

**Visual artists, forgive me. For the grid illustration and the space cows.