I must confess…

I have a confession.

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

As I’ve been working on a bunch of different entries for this blog, mostly about creativity and writing, I keep running up against this wall.  There’s this inner voice, almost worse than that inner-editor.  The inner-critic.  The voice that says things like: “What right do you have to write about writing,”  and, “There are plenty of writers out there that have actually published something, and have actually shared their writings, that could talk about this,” and, “Aren’t there already a gazillion books about writing in the world, do you think you’re saying anything new?”

It makes me want to place my credentials out there.  To respond to that voice by proving the fact that I have actually been published, although I’ll also be the first to diminish those publishing’s by tacking on caveats to make it seem lesser than others publications.  To emphasize that while my degrees are in history, and religion, I have attended schools that put a major focus on writing.  To argue that while I have yet to complete a viable novel manuscript, I have written A LOT.  I have taken creative writing classes, and participated in fiction workshops.  For a while I had a nice little stack of rejection letters from places I had submitted my writing over the years?  But, what purpose do those arguments serve?  Other than making it clear I feel like a fraud and want to justify myself?

I struggle with this inner-critic.  But I then I step back and remind myself I never claim to be an expert (on anything, really.  Unless I’m joking).  Because I believe there is always more to learn, always more to discover, and no one can ever hold all the answers.   So when I am writing about creativity, and the writing process, I am writing about my journey, the discoveries that I’ve made along the way — and hoping that perhaps others will share their own journeys and discoveries.

Today I saw this tweet retweeted by @maureenjohnson:

After a moment spent wondering how in the world I had not followed @haleshannon yet, I began to reflect on the question of how a writer puts in those hours.  First, I had to admit that I have kind of failed when it comes to practicing things when I should be.  I never put in the time with my cello that I was supposed to — but I knew that I was supposed to be running scales, doing bow exercises, and working through the pieces that we were going to perform.  With ballet it was similar, I was supposed to be doing barre exercises, and running through routines.  I remember the rule of thumb being that, at least for my cello, I was supposed to be practicing an hour a day.  And probably, if I really was committed to playing the cello, I was also supposed to be studying music theory, and listening to cello music (which I did, so at least I wasn’t completely slacking).

Why would I view writing any differently?

Like any art, like any skill, you have to keep putting in the time, energy, and effort to be good at it — and to keep it sharp.  It’s about cultivating those ideas, and also about exploring the process.  Reading and learning from the masters, whoever you may consider the masters to be.  Participating in classes and workshops.  And writing, of course.  Writing and writing and writing.  Trying different kinds of writing, challenging yourself to take on different styles, different perspectives, different genres.

And for once, it’s something I have actually — happily — put the practice time into!  I don’t want to know how many hours I have spent writing, or how many times I have genre jumped over the years.  I have written short stories, poetry, sermons, lectures, academic papers, novel-length thesis’ (thesi?  What is the plural of thesis?) and fiction-novels (or, to be honest, novel portions).  And, as I said, I have attended classes, and am constantly reading about other author’s process, and talking about it with friends.

What more is there involved in practicing my craft?  In putting in those hours?  What should I be doing additionally?  Honestly, at this point I think it is just following through.  Sticking with the ideas I have and making them happen, putting the hard work in to get the story on the page.  And then revising, editing, and looking for input from others.

This is something I know — where I don’t feel like a fraud, because putting in the time and energy and practice is something everyone needs to, novice, intermediary, or expert.  We all need to practice, and this is one thing that I have been practicing.

But I am curious what others think — what are the things you do to help you practice your craft?  Or that you feel you should do?

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4 thoughts on “I must confess…”

  1. Something I have found of my author friends is that what others say about their legitimacy equates to absolute bunk. They ARE writers, whether they are published traditionally, self-published, not published, or standing on their heads doing anything but write at any given moment. It’s an inherent quality that allows them to see the world as fodder for possible future works, and allows them the grace it takes to prioritize writing time for themselves–when and if it happens. You’re absolutely a writer.

    Currently I have five or so novels in my head that just won’t come out. They have taken up residence, and I am unsure as to how to proceed. I look forward to seeing what other comments come about.

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    1. I think the first thing to do with those novels is to just WRITE at them. Start at a scene that most catches your interest, or at the beginning if you want (recognizing that it might not remain the beginning), and write. Or tell yourself you’re simply going to bullet-point/outline (not like good old high school outlining (that I always did after the paper was written), unless that’s what you want to do, but more paragraph-based, “here’s what’s happening now” outlining). Allow yourself the kindness of knowing that it may be choppy at first, it might be terrible writing that you wouldn’t even share with your pet or houseplant. But it’s getting started. I saw this quote through GoodReads today:

      Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” -Louis L’Amour

      And it’s really true. Until you allow yourself to put the ideas on the page, nothing will come. I can’t count how many stories have fizzled out because I have played them out in my mind while walking, or doing chores, or laying in bed, but never could bring myself to take the (sometimes painful) step of putting them on paper. Incomplete fragments, choppy dialogue or super-schmaltzy scenes are better than never even starting.

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  2. I always say a writer is someone who writes. If you are writing, you’re a writer. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. Simple.

    I definitely agree that it’s more difficult to measure putting in the time. The musician can spend an hour practicing scales and the artist doing studies. But how do you measure a craft that is purely theoretical? Crumpled paper? Wrist sprains? You don’t have anything to show for your work until you’ve found that thing to show.

    I think the most important thing is know what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it. Then your job as a writer is only to figure out how to make that happen and embrace the idea that you don’t know how to make it happen – not yet. Then putting in the time is anything that goes towards figuring out how to make the thing happen.

    I think there ARE basics that you can practice, though. My art teacher says sometimes the best way to get your breakthrough is to limit yourself. Limit yourself to a set word count. Limit yourself to one type of sentence. Limit yourself from describing one of the senses, sight perhaps. Things like that. It’ll not be fun and it’ll be hard work, but you’ll definitely learn new things.

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    1. I like the idea of measuring the craft through wrist sprains and crumpled paper. Perhaps eye-strain, worn out pens, and sore neck and shoulders can be added to the list? The number of different braces you have to wear while working?
      I remember a couple of creative writing classes (and books) that had exercises like you’re suggesting. I still have the book one of my High School teachers gave me as a graduation gift that is full of little practices to do to help sharpen the craft of writing, to challenge you to look at things differently. My problem is I have traditionally gone to the ones that I like, and skipped the ones I don’t — trying to start counteracting that now! Because accepting and facing challenges, being willing to put in that hard work, is the only way one can really grow in anything. Writing is no different.

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