Settle In for the Long Haul, Writers

I do not recommend this sleeping position for anyone but a newborn.

Not five minutes ago, I laid Milo down for his first nap in his bassinet. He’s been sleeping out here in the family room with me in a swing, and that works . . . but not for the long haul. Now that he’s six weeks old, I need to begin helping him adjust to sleeping the way he likely will for the rest of his life – in a quiet, dark room. (And let’s be honest – I need to adjust to not having him by my side all the time.)

As writers, we can be a lot like new babies (or new mothers for that matter.) We want to read the entire internet’s worth of advice and try out every tip, all in the quest for the magic secret that will make this writing life easy. . . or at least easier. We buy books and invest in software; we experiment with writing in cafes, in silent offices with closed doors; we write long-hand and then type and then dictate.  This is what everyone does when they begin something . . . the problem is that often we use “trying things out” as an excuse not to simply choose a way and stick with it.  After all, it’s a far easier to keep experimenting and discarding options than it is to sit with the page in front of us every day.

The Wisdom of Other Writers

I’ve been pondering this idea of what works for writers for a couple of weeks now, and over on my Facebook page, I asked folks two questions:

  • What is your favorite writing tool?
  • What is the best advice you have to give to other writers?

The answers I got to the first question were a bit surprising to me, but I guess they shouldn’t have been.  I had thought people would suggest Scrivener or the Wendell Berry-standard of a pen and paper, but instead they said things like “attention,” “discipline,” and “imagination. (I did like that Todd really finds Netflix to be a great tool, though.) All of these tools, except subscription movies and TV, are available to all of us, but they are all things we have to cultivate and practice.  They aren’t things that can be tried out and discarded; they have to be tended, grown.  They take time, even a lifetime, to master.

People gave me similar answers about writing advice. Alison said, “Write what you love,” and Bonny added, “Just do it every day.” Others offered wisdom about when we get stuck.  None of the answers were simplistic tips or tricks. Again, writers know – the only trick of writing is to figure out how to settle in to a lifetime of it.

Settling In

Oh, if I could give you a surefire method for building a writing practice, if I could tell you the five things you need to do to have a successful, lucrative, fulfilling writing life, I’d do it. (I’d also be the richest writer in the world.) But the truth is that there is no one method; there is no trick, no step-by-step routine that will get you there.

The best truth I know is that you have to settle in and do what will work for you over the long haul of the writing life.  

So experiment, yes. Try out things. But when you find something that works, even only sometimes, stick with it.  Sometimes is often the best we get. No one I know writes really well every day. We have to simply do what gets us to the page and lets us set the words free most days. There’s no such thing as perfect when it comes to writing. What matters is that you show up, settle in, and coax the words forward. Sometimes writing feels like breathing. Sometimes it feels like getting a baby to sleep well.

For the record, Milo has slept for the full 30 minutes it has taken me to write out this post. I’ll call that w in for the day.