The week before last (couldn’t post last week due to other writing projects taking precedence) I went on a bit about needing a muse, or rather, not needing a muse.
That’s what this whole blog is about, after all.
In my personal life, I’ve been stressed out to my limits. I won’t get into why, but things have been looking pretty bad for my immediate family, and we’ve had some ups and downs. But I can’t let that interfere with my ability to write. No matter what, I have to get up, pick up my laptop, and work. Whether it’s for my personal projects or a client project, it has to be done and it has to be done well.
The way it used to be was, I didn’t think I could just sit down and write. I thought I had to be inspired by something special. I had to have one of those ‘aha’ moments and write a manuscript or an article in a flurry of abandon to produce a masterpiece that would be lauded long after I died.
Yeah. That worked out about as well as putting your hand through a mangler.
My writing stank. It was putrid. Forced, false, and stilted, full of cliches and overusing words. Blah. (There are a couple of reasons for this, actually, but I’ll go into that some other time.)
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties when I realized that the lessons I’d gotten during a Shingon Esoteric Buddhist retreat that I could apply it to my writing.
During that retreat, one of the things we did was calligraphy — meditative calligraphy. Our Sensei taught us to write in Japanese kanji, and we were practicing one character throughout the week. Well, if you know me, you know I can’t draw to save my life. I can do a mean stick figure, but that’s about it. So, the elegance of the kanji calligraphy was way out of my league. But, an assignment is an assignment, so I sat there on my mat, ink brush in one hand, paper on the floor, tongue sticking out to one side as I attempted to imitate the strokes of the brush as our Sensei had done so effortlessly.
It looked like a little kid’s drawing…well, actually worse. It was bad.
Sensei looked over my shoulder. “Practice more,” he told me. I shook my head, discouraged.
“I just don’t have the talent,” I told him. He smiled at me.
“This looks like my first drawing when I was a child,” he said. “You can practice, and you can become good.”
So, all week long, I practiced. I brought my materials home, and I kept practicing. Page after crappy page. But I was encouraged and determined to show improvement.
At the end of the week, we were sitting for meditative calligraphy again, for the same character.
Once again, Sensei came over and looked at my work.
“Much better,” he commented. “You’ve practiced.”
I nodded. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was a slight improvement over the chicken scratch I’d produced before. “Hope I get even better.”
“Practice ten-thousand times and you will be a master.”
That stayed with me. If you practice anything ten-thousand times, then, yes, you can achieve mastery over something.
So it is with writing. Practice, practice, and practice some more, and eventually you will master the craft. You don’t need to wait for inspiration, because inspiration will come to you when you practice. The more you open your mind to the possibilities of your stories, the more you’ll gain insight to your own words.
On the days you don’t feel like writing, promise yourself you’ll write just 500 words (that’s one page, come on already) about anything. I mean anything. Here are some prompts to get you started:
- A man walks into a bar and realizes he has a drinking problem.
- A dog decides to take up ice skating.
- A small group of people face having to eat one of their own to survive.
- Gorillas figure out how to shoot people.
- One beauty contest goes horribly wrong.
Pick one of these and do just 500 words about it. See if it turns into something, and go from there. That’s exactly what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
Now, I’m off to write a short story about a road trip. Let’s see where this road takes me. Write away.
This post is dedicated to Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, authors of How Not to Write a Novel. Once they’ve inspired you, follow them on Twitter. But don’t leave me hanging! You can follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira), where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.