“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.”—Arne Garborg
As writers, I think we all have times when our call to be a writer, that song in our hearts, gets drummed out. We forget why we’re pursuing our craft and calling. We get into a funk with writing.
Often this funk finds us because we’re writing what we are meant to write, which means (cringe) we will be seen and deeply known. There’s friction between what our heart truly desires—to deeply connect—and our evolutionary inheritance that shouts, “Run! Hide! We’re vulnerable!”
I, for one, have days when I despair about writing, more often when I compose words they don’t come out complete, whole, and absolutely brilliant. I will doubt myself I will get lost in the weeds of my writing, fumbling for words, moving things around on the page.
When I’m writing a memoir, there’s also the deeper despair of not only questioning if I am a good enough writer but also if I am a good enough person. Is my life interesting enough to write about?
Fortunately, I learned to plan for these moments of forgetting the song in my heart. I build in support and reminders, because I know I won’t remember when I am in the thick of writing. I enlist readers who I know will deeply relate to parts of my narrative, who remind me why what I write is not just interesting, but even important.
And past-me can be one of those people who remind me of my value as a writer. For example, I wrote a manifesto about why I write, then pinned up the words above my writing spot to remind me. Part of it reads: I will do this in my own time, in my own way. I will breathe and meditate when I feel like I can’t.
I do this to remind myself I am good enough to do this, because of how I am doing this—with my heart and mind open.
Do you need to be reminded of your worth as a writer right now? Are you currently struggling with doubts about your writing? Let me sing the song in your heart to you if you’ve forgotten:
You are a writer, you love to write, and writing connects and enriches your life in ways that not writing never will.
You might be in a major life transition when it’s easy to let a writing habit slip away. When I’m sick, travelling, or in any kind of upheaval, it’s not hard to lose my footing and find myself out of step with the rhythm of my usual writing routine.
I would never claim to have mastered writing during an upheaval—sometimes we just need to ride it out—but I have found ways to keep a little light on for my writing practice during difficult transitions.
When I’m going through an intense period, I try to give myself dead-simple writing challenges. Like, during the lead up to a recent big move, I challenged myself to write anytime, anywhere, for five minutes a day.
I did my five-minute stints in a closet (hiding from my kids), in a cafe pitstop on my bike route from one appointment to another. I fit them in while dinner simmered on the stove, or a waist-high pile of laundry lingered beside me.
Sometimes I’d look up and it was 11:55 p.m. and I’d be on the brink of despairing, “Oh, woe, today is done and I didn’t do my five minutes.” Then that other voice that challenges my inner critic, my inner wisdom, chimed in to say: “It ain’t over, yet!” And I got down to writing for the last five minutes of the day.
Committing to small writing goals on a given day brings a calm that comes from knowing: I will write today. That calm smooths the path for deeper observations and openness to creativity. When I know I will write today, my mind is ready to receive any ideas and images.
Of course, with really big changes unfolding, I can never hold on too tightly to a practice. For example, for a few days after my big move overseas, I did what most sensitive people do when coming down from an utterly overwhelming transition with new stimuli: I slept, watched documentaries, cried in my bedsheets, ate chocolate.
I grieved change because that’s what we do with changes, even good ones. Then, a few days later, I went back to my five-minute practice. Because…five minutes? That still felt small, attainable, and open to me. (And, anyway, writing is always the best place to work out my feelings about big transitions.)
Throughout this transition, I kept another line from my manifesto in mind: This is my journey and I will do it at the pace that works best for me.
I still revisit this line on days when I want to hide in bed and feel down about my writing practice and output.
This is my journey.
Months after my big change this five-minute strategy became the foundation of a regular writing habit. But there are still so many ways for me to block myself from writing, or to just make it hard.
Somewhere along the way of becoming a writer, I absorbed that macho idea that you must suffer to be an artist. But my inner wisdom has found a few solutions to my writing challenges that I thought I’d share with you here:
Challenge: I wrack my brain for just the right metaphor, don’t find one that fits and get hung up on why I can’t find it, why these analogies seem to come easier to other writers, and in that same mental breath decide I mustn’t be a writer since I’m so prosaic in my thinking. (Yes, this is all one long sentence in my mind.)
Solution: I go for a walk and look around me for analogies, images, connections everywhere. I can allow my mind to wander. On days when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I can free-write a list instead. The trick to this list writing is to keep it playful and light, though. I avoid imposing a serious writing session on my list by writing in spirals and outside the lines. (Here’s a list I made for the word thick: jelly, club music, my notebook, his voice, my winter pyjamas.)
Challenge: I muddle over one idea or question with my writing for days. I’ll sit down, “try” to write, and feel this question standing in my way. Time passes; I’ve been in the chair, poised to write, but nothing has come of my practice.
Solution: I write down this idea or question in the morning and go about the rest of my day. So long as I make sure I have “thinking time” embedded in my day, the answer will come to me as I’m in the shower, on the bus, or any time I allow my mind to wander.
Challenge: I keep asking for outside advice about my writing, get one critique and change everything based upon the advice of someone who doesn’t know my work or understand my aim. Or, I can invite contrary critiques and get frozen about what to do next.
Solution: I sit with myself and what I know about my writing. I can develop a few trusted writing advisors and ask them specific questions about sections I’m wondering about and give them parameters for the kind of feedback I want to get. I can also wait until I’m ready for others to read my writing.
For me, I find it helps to think of my writing routine like the writing itself. A writing routine requires planning, practice, and editing. Revising my writing routine to include the above solutions has made tectonic shifts in how I feel about my writing day-to-day.
Today, I’m done with the idea that I need power-through or suffer to reap the rewards of writing. Because powering through, or even just being “busy” with the writing, yet deeply unhappy with my process, doesn’t work for me. (And never has.)
I have faith that writing can be a joyful practice when we let it be so.
The more time I take to reflect and be thoughtful in my writing practice, the more alive and amazed I am in the process of writing. And that’s what it’s all about for me as a writer—the discoveries I make on the page.
What about you? Are there aspects of your writing practice that you need to edit?
If you’ve been finding writing hard, I wonder if one of the above solutions would work for your writing challenges today.
If you’ve been in a big upheaval with your writing, I wonder what’s the smallest action you could commit to for your writing each day.
This is your writing journey. And you can find a pace that works best for you.
My hope is that you will build a practice that allows you to feel alive, amazed—and whatever else you’re writing to feel and experience—on this journey.
My hope is that you’ll always remember the song in your heart and keep writing.