If You Want to Write

I can’t count the times someone has said to me, “I wish I could do what you do,” meaning writing.

I’ll ask, “Did you try?”

“Oh, I did, but I’m not good at it.” (Which is, of course, not the point.) Or, “But nothing ever came of it.” (What, exactly, does this mean?)

I say, if you want to write, write. What does it matter how good it is, or whether anything will come of it? If it wants out, let it. Don’t stop it. Go for a walk. Carry a notebook with you, or just a folded piece of paper, and a pen. Stop in some park. Sit at a picnic table. Write down whatever it is that wants out.

That’s how you start.

And if you are afraid that someone will read what you wrote, hide it. That’s what Kate Hamilton, the main character in my novel, Diary of a Naïve, did. Some deep-rooted fear from way back made her think that her husband, or her children, or whoever, would laugh at her, or think her crazy, if they knew that she wrote things down, or even aspired to being a writer. As for the deep-rooted fear: Feeling memories are very powerful. Let me say it again. Feeling memories are very powerful. And feeling memories have a lot to do with what you think you shouldn’t be doing or are not good enough to do or will never be good enough to do, and what, instead, you should be doing. But until you search for the reasons of your feeling memories, and don’t stop until you find them and shoot them dead, they will create havoc with everything you really, really want to do. Should is a powerful word. Ban it from your life and replace it with want. Hard to do at first, but after awhile, you’ll get the hang of it.

So. Go for it.

Getting things out on a piece of paper does just that—it gets it out onto a piece of paper, where you can look at it and examine it and think about it and smile over something stunning you wrote (inadvertently, you think, but what does it matter), or just hug it to your heart with tears in your eyes, because you love them so much—these feeble, seemingly dumb, no good words (you thought) that you dared write anyway. You don’t even have to write a story. Just write about you. What you feel, what you love, what you see, what you hate, what makes you cry, what makes you jump for joy. You probably never thought about it.

So, go for it. Because one day, you will be eighty, and you will wake up one morning, and you will think, ‘I wish I . . . .’ Don’t let that happen. Now means now. Hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and months turn into years, and the next thing you know, you are, in fact, eighty, and you will never, ever get these lost moments back. Never.

The best definition, I think, of what wanting to write means was penned by Annie Dillard in Holy The Firm. She said, “If you want to be a writer, you have to take a broad ax to your life.” True. Point is–there’s the job, and the husband, and the wife, and the children, and the parents, and the rest of the family, and who knows what other obligations lurk forever in some hidden corner and suddenly jump out and pounce on you.

If you want to write, find the time. There is a wonderful passage in the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer has asked Griet to help him mix paints. She tells him that she is too busy and too much is expected of her already. He says a very simple thing, “Find the time.” She does.

If you want something bad enough, you find the time. You get rid of the subscriptions to mags you never read anyway. You stop hanging out with folks to whom you have no emotional connection whatsoever. When the family asks you to do things they can well do themselves, you learn to say a simple little word: No.

It took me years to learn it, but I did.

When I was two years old, I knew exactly what I wanted. And no one was going to tell me otherwise. And if I didn’t get it, I threw a temper tantrum. I didn’t always get my way, but most of the time, I did. Learn to be two again.

Which brings me to, “But nothing ever came of it.” Whatever that means. I suppose it means, ‘Unless I become a celebrated writer with twenty best sellers under my belt, making ten million a year, I don’t want it.’ Sometimes, you write just to get to know yourself. And that’s worth more than ten million.

Up to you.

But if you want to be a writer, think of it this way: Isak Dinesen, the very Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame, was quite ill when she said this to a friend, because she was determined to write her stories one way or another, “. . . if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, . . .  suddenly the work will find itself.”

Surprise, surprise. It might take you weeks, or months, or years. But one day, it is done. Whatever it is you have always wanted to do—write, or paint, or sculpt, or weave—do it, and once you’ve done it, you just never know. No one might ever be interested. But you will be a better person for having done it. And then again, someone might come along and say, I want this. Or, I want to publish this. Or, I want to buy this. Or: I want one just like it, will you make me one—I will pay you.

You just never know.

So. Go for it.

I will be rooting for you all the while.


 P.S. And just in case all should fail, take it with a good dose of humor. You are not alone. See cartoon below, and keep writing.


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