Are You A Writer, Or Someone Who Dreams Of Being A Writer?

being a writer

Being a writer, rather than someone who dreams of being a writer, is a challenge. Insecurity can be the twin of creativity — give yourself permission to just get started.

On assignment recently for SPAN Magazine, I had the privilege of interviewing Vijay Seshadri, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Sarah Lawrence professor, and all-around inspiring gentleman. During our conversation, which focused on crafting prose and poems alike, one statement reverberated loudly:

“Writers don’t dream of writing. Writers write.”

There’s much wisdom within those twin sentences, and it’s a sentiment that echoes my own experiences. At times, writing feels wonderfully easy — as Seshadri described, almost like taking dictation. There are other times when lining up words feels akin to slogging through quick-drying cement.

In keeping with Seshadri’s assertion, here are tips that have helped me continue to be a writer who writes, regardless of what obstacles exist between dreams of filling a page and actually getting it done.

Just get started

Motivational speakers, performance psychologists, and religious leaders have all said it: the hardest part of completing a challenge is getting started. Often, I’ve found that profoundly true of writing. Even on days when I seem to have no words inside of me, once I start, momentum takes hold. Self-bribery can be a decent catalyst (“After I write two paragraphs, it’s time for a cup of fancy coffee”), or setting low expectations (“An opening paragraph and then I’m done”). Regardless of the spark, once started, I often find myself creating far more than the minimal goal I initially set.

Give yourself permission to be awful

Fear can hobble even the most accomplished writers. What if you suddenly run out of inspiration? What if your brilliant turn of phrase is, in fact, laughably awful to the reader? Insecurity is often an unavoidable twin of creativity, and it’s one that must be dealt with proactively.

When I’m on deadline, I sometimes tell myself — ahead of time and somewhat tongue-in-cheek — that what I am about to write is going to be very, very bad, and spitting out a draft that downright stinks is perfectly okay. The fear goes away. If I already know that my written output will be terrible, what is there to be scared of?

This bit of mental jiu jitsu done, and permission to create something not very good granted, I relax and write. Nearly every time I do this, what I come up with is actually quite usable, or at least presents a solid starting point from which to finish the project.

Have multiple projects going at once

It’s rare for me to have fewer than five distinct writing projects going at the same time, and often more. I like it this way, especially when writing itself proves difficult.

Perhaps I’m only in the right creative space to work on a magazine article about medical science research in India, or maybe it’s long-form political fiction or bust. As long as there are no pressing deadlines, I go towards whatever project in my portfolio feels the most organic. When one begins to feel stale rather than inspiring, I move to the next, revisiting the first when I can approach it as new again.

Having multiple projects simultaneously spinning also helps temper the highs and lows that come with involved writing. An experience of head-against-wall banging is made less intense by the excitement of progressing on a piece that’s completely unrelated.

Focus on incremental progress — and stay flexible

If you’re working on a novel-length story, or a memoir, or a multi-page feature article with deep research, looking at the entire scope of your task can cause more paralysis than inspiration. The answer? Approach like a craftsperson. Divide and conquer.

In practice, let’s say you have a major project — and the flu. Your capacity to concentrate is maybe ten percent of what it would otherwise be. Are clever chapter titles all you can focus on? Dive in and write them down. Do you feel that working on anything beyond Wikipedia research about your protagonist’s favorite hobbies will make your head melt? Do the research and don’t worry about anything else. The moment you feel capable of shifting your attention to another angle of literary creation, go with it.

Remember, every major work, regardless of content or format, is made up of smaller sections, sentences, meanings, fragments, words, letters. Every addition you make to your work in progress, no matter how seemingly insignificant, inches you closer to completion.

Making yourself a writer who writes, rather than someone who dreams of being a writer, can be a challenge, and these strategies are really just the beginning. What do you do to spark your own creativity and, when it comes to writing, just get it done?


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  1. thanks – any encouragement is appreciated – writing is laying it on the table saying to everyone – what do you think about my two-year project – not many other jobs have that much exposure

  2. Thank you for this post. I found it very useful. Getting started is often the problem with me. But once I start, I tend to go over the limit I had set myself. It is also a good advice to keep more than one project on at anyone time. It prevents stagnation and sharpens your writing skill. I have four projects going at the same time now – a book of poems and three books!
    Thanks again for posting this. Very useful tips for all aspiring authors as well as established ones too.

  3. Oh, that second point! How many times have I RE-written the same material because it had to be ‘just so’. I’m going to try this strategy for a change and see what loosens up.

    I found the other pointers useful too. Thanks!

  4. Hi,

    I have just graduated for my Master’s Degree, in Creative Writing. Yet, I still lack confidence with my writing becuase I suffer from severe dyslexia. This holds me back with my grammar and stuture when I write. Any suggestions welcome?

    • My son is dyslexic and writes. He uses Grammarly. He’s also done an online writing course. His writing and coherence in doing so has improved. Dyslexia is not about intelligence. You probably can imagine great stories and have the ability to look at things in many ways. Don’t give up. Just write.

  5. On (xth, actually) second thought, I know how to regularly write fiction.

    I’m a poet. I became one at 9. It was hard at first, particularly since I despised rhymed poetry (I’m not quite as allergic now). Haiku (badly translated to English because there is no possible good translation ATT) truly brought me to flame, and that was a year later. There are implicit advantages to being a military dependent.

    Several years later I realized I could no longer remember when I wrote something. Now, I often can’t remember writing poems. In fact, I will have gone through a long “dry” period–and then discover that I’ve written a great deal during that same period.

    What’s the point? Write by habit. It should not be diary-like in nature. This portion of writing shouldn’t be devoted to an ongoing project, because your sole point in this exercise is exactly what I said; force yourself to start writing by habit. [This will also help in just doing it rather than thinking about it. “Thinking about it” is in general the antithesis of “Doing it”; however, note that is a relative rather than an absolute statement.

    If you don’t do this (as I haven’t done) each time I’m starting to break a habit of NOT writing prose.

  6. In response to your article, are you a writer or someone who dreams of being a writer.
    My biggest hurdle seems to be following a format that will get me to my final destination, and that’s publishing my first manuscript.

    Is there someone out there willing to simplify the process? I have nearly completed five books, but have yet to figure out my step by step instruction that will ultimately help me fufill my goal.
    Please Help

    • Hi, S Callea: Which process do you mean — is it completing the writing itself that you want simplified? Or the steps of publishing? Or is it the process of carrying forward a project to the desired end result? (The step-by-step will be very different for each, that’s why I ask.)

    • 1) A good start is to get some readers. Not granny who will tell you you’ve done well even if your manuscripts are full of stage direction, telling not showing, point of view errors and sentences not trimmed back and higher in verbs and nouns than anything else. You will no doubt know other factors to look out for. 2) Get some writing buddies and help each other. 3) Don’t get published by someone whose promises seem too good to be true. There are unscrupulous publishers who will publish a work far from publishable. A writer wants a book published when it is at its best with all facets polished and gleaming. 4) Do some research on how to get your writing to a high standard. 5) Pay heed to the constructive criticism of experts but don’t feel down as a consequence. Their first drafts were probably just awful. Also some of their advice may clash with your creative ideas. eg some people pop in flash backs ad nauseum. Some do everything to avoid doing so.

  7. Thank you for the inspiration of many projects as once. I have so many running through my mind thought I had to pick one. Now I will start AGAIN and organize my stories so I can work on as many as I wish. Thanks
    Linda B. Writer-in-Progress


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