Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rule #1: You Must Write.

The first rule Robert Heinlein listed is, "you must write."

On the surface, that sounds like a no-brainer.  Writers are people who write, aren't they?  So doesn't it follow that a writer will be putting words on paper (or computer screen)?

Well, maybe, maybe not.  Because we can come up with all kinds of excuses not to write without trying too hard.

We can't write because we don't have time.  Or the muse is on vacation.  Or no one will buy our stuff.  Or we don't feel like it.  Or, or, or...(insert favorite excuse here).

Dean Wesley Smith, a writer who is a friend and mentor, says "if you can be discouraged in this business, you should be."  If you don't want to write, there are plenty of reasons not to.  But if you want to be a writer, you have to figure out how to produce new words on a regular basis.

I'm coming out of a period of time where I struggled with this first rule because anytime I sat down to try to write something I became afraid.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I was afraid to write.

I'm not sure why.  I'm starting a new project that is intimidating in the work it will involve.  I'm not sure I can pull it off. That fear has sent me running from the keyboard to even doing housework (which, if you know me, is a pretty drastic thing).

How am I working on it?  Aside from this week, when I've been concentrating on another one of Heinlein's rules, I would make myself sit down at my laptop, and I couldn't get up until I had produced at least 500 words.

I played mind games with myself.  I'd let myself play a game first, sneaking up on the writing.  I made a note of the time I wanted to start writing.  About two minutes before starting, I'd quit the game and gear up to write.  And I stayed put until I got those words written.

I help care for my in laws.  That means, among other things, I don't have a set time to write.  So I look for opportunities.  I've written at all hours of the day.  I've written in bed, at airports, doctor's offices, coffee shops, hotel rooms - and that's just a partial list.  I can't wait for an ideal time to write, because all too often the ideal doesn't show up.

Writing is like any other profession.  If you want it, you can't wait for the time to do it.  You have to make it a priority.  A writer writes.  So do what you have to, but sit down and write.

Oh, and let me mention something else.  500 words doesn't sound like a lot - it's two manuscript pages.  But here's the math: 500 words a day = over 180,000 words, which is the equivalent of two novels.  And I can often bang those words out in twenty minutes to a half hour. 

So write!  Every word brings you closer to your goal.  Next week we'll talk about finishing what we write.

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