The next time you sit down to write, engage, if you will, in this proven-to-be-effective writing exercise: Peek under all the cushions of your couch. Glance beneath your desk. Crouch down to spy under the bed. Do you see little elves ready to laugh in your face and call you a fraud as soon as you start writing? No? Good—that's because they're not real. Do you see lots of dust bunnies? Good—you've been spending time doing creative work more important than cleaning.
7. The Mount Everest of Laundry
Speaking of dust bunnies...there are 50 million more urgent things you should be doing right now than writing. But the socks will get paired somehow eventually; the writing won't happen unless you make it. Focusing on telling this story might just be the most important thing you can do today.
8. A Seemingly Broken Word-Count Tool
We've all heard of writers whose books descend like tidal waves while they lock themselves in their secluded garret and write in a frenzy for 10 days straight without breaks for food or water or an episode of The Voice. But there are as many ways to create as there are people. Your free time might not be so plentiful. Take heart—great works can be created in small bursts. Remember Alice Munro, she of the debut book at almost the age of 40? She wrote her first book of short stories over 20 years in stolen slivers of time while her three children were napping or otherwise occupied. Graham Greene, the prolific novelist and journalist, was famous for writing exactly 500 words a day (that's less than two pages) and then stopping, even if he was in the middle of a sentence. Math break! If you write 500 words a day—say, before or after work, or during a lunch break even—for five days a week, by the end of a year you'll have 130,000 words, or a 500-something-page draft of a book.
9. The Anticipated Pile of Rejection Letters
It is possible that you will work very hard for a long time writing something and that no one will want to publish it. (Not to nag, but they definitely won't publish your story if you never write it.) So what if they don't offer a book contract or placement in a major magazine? There are tons of self-publishing options. And, not to beat a dead anecdote, but surely you've heard that Walt Whitman's classic long poem Leaves of Grass was self-published? Not to mention this thing called the Internet, wherein scores of excellent writers have honed their skills and seen their work grow from humble blogs to full-fledged paper publications: the Bloggess, the Pioneer Woman and Rurally Screwed, to name just a few.
10. The Idea That Someone Else Could Tell It Better
It's easy to psych yourself out thinking about how someone else has already told a story like yours, and has probably done it better. But no one—think of that, no one—has lived exactly your life, has exactly your way of seeing things, exactly your way of describing the rubies of blood stinging to the surface of your knee when you fell racing your kindergarten best friend and she kept running anyway. The great Marilynne Robinson once told me that you must write the story you want to read. This is how you can keep from losing your nerve, from obsessing over who has done it better or getting mired in the muck of what-do-you-think-you-are-doing-anyway. Think of what you'd like to read but never have. That is the story that only you can write.
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