Now, more than ever as writers, we all have to show up.
I know it's harder than ever to focus on the words that need to get down on the page in the middle of Facebook arguments with distant family members, and violence on autoplay on our Twitter feeds. But right now and more than ever, the world needs your voice.
Don't put it off. Don't sit back and wait, hoping the muse will find you.
Go out and get it. Sit down and make it come to you. Build a nest on your head, if that's what it takes.
A while ago I tweeted some trivial things into the empty vastness of Twitter and one of them was, What do you do when writing stops being sexy?
I was burned out. I'm ghostwriting blog copy during the day and tearing open my fiction projects at night. It's just writing, writing, writing from the time I wake up until the time I let myself slide back into bed.
I'm with my writing all day, every day. And eventually, like any long-term relationship, the magic starts to wear out.
I don't mean to say that magic doesn't still happen. It absolutely does for me. I get lost in new stories, new characters, new landscapes. I get whisked away by a new world. I lose myself in it and come up hours later, confused about where I was, how I got there, or what time it is now.
What I do mean is that it won't always be that way.
Magic doesn't happen every single time I sit down to write. There are deadlines to meet and word count quotas to fill, and sometimes it just has to get done, muse or not. Genius or not.
Do you read Dear Abby?
"Relationships are work," she's always telling readers. Sure, love is a rollercoaster ride at first. We fall down the elevator shaft the first time. It's falling and flying all at once. It's blowing the hair out of your face like you're on a book cover.
After a while, you return to level. The wind dies down.
Of course, Abby tries to phrase it a bit nicer than the word "work." "Learn how to give and take," she'll say, or "listen, then talk." Or: "Find things to like."
But the moral of the story is pretty clear: even our most worthwhile long-term relationships eventually stop being all magic, all the time. It takes time and concerted effort to keep it alive, and nourish the spark simmering inside.
So back to the nest on your head.
Fill it with some soft sticks. Layer on some leaves, and a bit of moss, too, just to really entice that genius to land its cute little butt there.
1. Have a space.
Like having a roaming pet cat, a place where the genius knows where to find you is a really good way to make sure it comes when you call it.
You don't always have to use this place to do your writing, but at the very least, it's a good idea to have made a connection with it as your "writing place" for when you do find yourself in the rut.
And why not put a big beacon on your head, as it were?
2. Wear writing stuff. Bring your writing mug. Put on that writing music.
Build around yourself the things that make your writing easier. Whatever your brain has started to associate with WRITE MODE, that's what I want you to surround yourself with. These are the soft leaves and fluffy mosses in your cute little genius nest.
Nice and cozy. There you go. That's great. Now blow a tad on that spark, just a gentle foosh if you don't mind, and watch your spark grow up into a quaint little fire.
3. Get there. Show up.
Without your behind in a chair and your fingers somewhere near a keyboard, how can you possibly get any writing done?
I know. It's not always easy to stay in the chair when it seems like nothing magical is happening. I've become accustomed to this way of life:
"What about the first five chapters, when I felt so fiery about this? Where is that version of me now? Is she gone forever :((("
Hey, chill, it's okay. She's probably lounging on the couch stuffing her face with chips. Look, that's not my bag to judge. But you have to give up on her, because she's not coming back right now. Maybe not even until the end of this manuscript.
That's okay. It will still get done. You'll still have a great time.
Because the writing isn't happening on the couch, it's happening here. It's your fingers on the keyboard typing out whatever silly drivel happens to pop into your head. It's making sure that nest is all pretty and prepared for when someone does decide to show up and fill you with divine intervention, or genius, or inspiration, whatever you want to call it. Whatever makes you feel better about the fact that it isn't divine intervention.
4. Stop being so tough on yourself.
I like you and I want you to stop being so harsh.
Not every word is perfect, and gosh damn darn it, they don't have to be. That genius is never gonna land in that nice little nest we built if it feels intimidated by you—if it feels judged before it can even speak.
Remember: nourish. Coax that little spark out of there, don't crush it. Make your nest a safe place for the genius to hang out, and it will keep coming back to you.
It's not always magic. It's not always thrill and pounding hearts, because damn, that would be tiring.
It's diligence. It's patience. It's coming to work every day and doing the thing you set out to do.
And, shoot. It's also eventually finishing it.