It’s a boastful assertion, but some comfort to the many writers I see struggle to come to grips with the reason why good writing takes so long. You know you have a good story. You just need to know how to get it to the completed draft. There are ways to make it through when nothing else works.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few hard and fast rules to keep in mind, but typically the alternative process goes like this: you can pool from direct experiences to get something solid very quickly that is unpolished and in the rough, or you can wait a while, delicately approaching a subject repeatedly in different lights and moods, and like da Vinci use thin layers over long periods to produce something highly structured and refined. There’s no one way, or right way, or better way to do it. But frequently for dedicated writers the problem is not a lack of writing ability, because let’s face it, that part isn’t impossible, but rather the weight of the writing itself. Part of making it to the finish line is daring to believe you have something good to offer the world. The other part is realizing when you are in a small dingy with a lasso roped around the tip of an iceberg, with only a tiny paddle to make your way home with your inspiration, because that’s what it is. What you see or think you see is not what you are dealing with. Not really. Not if you’re here, still reading, and any of this rings true.

The point is to keep approaching the darkest doors you have yet to open with the deepest textures ingrained in them, because those are the same doors no one opens, and they stay closed for difficult reasons. You have them, they are there, and they are beckoning.

Plenty of times a story sags or goes brittle and falls apart or we lose interest simply because the structure underneath was not strong enough to hold it, or the little bits of fluff we intended to tack onto it simply weren’t interesting and full enough to cover what we wished. But nothing much compares to the difficulty most genuine and earnest writers face. You can see and feel the anguish from them at coffee or over dinner, or in their holiday updates, and you know something is stuck by the way they avoid that most awful of questions. When will it be done?

Of course, this is like asking God, when will the universe be done? If it hadn’t been such a pain to create, there wouldn’t have been so much about productivity once it was finished. Or is it? But that’s a question for another story.

What I humbly offer people who are writing good work, talented friends and struggling acquaintances I want to comfort, is simply this. You must lock eyes on the thing that makes you squirm. You must write all the harder when your cursor hovers over any possible distraction to get you out of the red zone, that uncomfortable on the nose place you must invent and uncover and lay bare about yourself so that others can dance around it and be safely distanced and comfortable confronting it after you’ve built the cage to hold it.

Whenever you get the need to reach out and send the signal to eject, sit on your hands and think. This is not genius advice by any stretch, but it is the most successful for getting done the project you really have in you, that you really want to complete, and the one that will ultimately be the most fulfilling as a creator, instead of skirting around all the little amusements that so many writers fall into while they are waiting to get the courage to say the thing that made them writers in the first place.

The shortest distance between two points is a direct line. It will be hard to write this way, but if you are reading this journal you have probably tired of the other advice anyway. Here’s my best shot to help you, because we are in the same line of work.

Write what scares the hell out of you. Write the thing you won’t share face to face or even think about for fear of ruining your day. Write the thing you cannot speak any other way. Sit there refusing to give in to the part of you that is scared off and instead make sense of the world you have found to build past all the fantastic mind palaces that were already so easily conquered in the past.

Go to the place you cannot go and open the door colored the blackest of night you cannot touch and find out what’s there. Something good happens afterward. You’ll have something that’s yours, that you believe in. The fight to leave what compels you will take over for the blank page you cannot fill. It is a reversal just as hard, but you will never wonder what to write again. You’ll always have something powerful and rich and compelling to write once you start from that place.

I have never felt what other people call writer’s block. I’ll even wager that what most people casually dismiss as a lack of discipline or procrastination due to lack of direction is really only this: the real truth, the one knocking about and asking for you by name, the thing they don’t tell you in pastel-covered writing self-help books is that real writing, like real living, or real anything is terrifying. Writing isn’t make believe. It’s pure fear, dipped in caramel. When you find yourself turning as far away from a word or subject or whisper as you can, that is exactly where you should be heading for your next line. Realize when you’re doing this, why you’re pulling away, and how that procrastination actually means you have exactly found the point at which you will write best and truest and most like your own voice. Consciously go after it, daily building up a tolerance for that thing waiting that you cannot face, and the block will go away.

It is so much easier to soften what is too true or too on the nose than to invent what is false. You will be happier with the outcome, I think.

Procrastination in writers is deathly not because it takes time, but because it teaches us to keep missing the obvious talents in ourselves that are waiting for us to make use of our personal truths we are secretly chasing without knowing that is exactly why we write.

Follow those dim lights down those dark corridors. Be willing to let the candle go out where you walk. Let your eyes adjust.

That’s my ghost story for the season.

Bisous

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