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  What Makes You Think You Can Write?
by Debra Koontz Traverso

"What makes you think you can write?"
Sound familiar? Sometimes the most defeating voices—those that stifle our creative juices—come from inside our own heads.

Unfortunately these negative voices generally are as much a part of the creative process as the positive and productive voices are. You can't build a gorgeous building without uncovering some mud and dirt when you break ground, and you can't give birth to a gorgeous baby without intense labor pains. Likewise, you can't expect writing to be without its challenges.

When those little voices start filling you with doubt, you need to have the proper ammunition to fight back. That ammunition comes in the form of the truth behind the writing life.

Let's take a look at the top ten doubts these gloomy voices can plant in your mind. Then, let's arm you with the ammunition you need to combat them.

They make you believe:

1. . . .You are not creative enough to be a writer.

The truth: Desire and creativity generally come as a package deal. If you truly desire to write, then the creativity rests within you. The real question is whether you are "brave" enough to be a writer. To be creative is to risk putting a part of yourself out there, for the world to see and criticize. It only follows that the protective part of you is going to go with it and keep saying, "Don't do it, don't do it."

I once read that God selected certain people to be writers, all the rest were left to play the role of critic. So let other people carry out their roles and you do yours, with the knowledge that the criticism and rejection will come. That means you've fulfilled your role.

2. . . .You shouldn't write until you've learned how to do it better, otherwise you'll just reinforce your bad writing habits.

The truth: If you wait until you can write better, then you'll never write because everyone's opinion of what is considered good—or great—writing differs. Writing is like learning to ride a bike. You can read about how to do it, watch other people do it, and think yourself through it, but until you get on the bike and try it, you'll never accomplish riding the bike. So write whenever you feel compelled to write. Do it right now.

3. . . .You must have the entire project (book, letter, brochure, novel) thought out before you write.

The truth: Writing before you've plotted out your piece is merely like driving at night. You can only see as far as the length of your headlights, but you CAN drive all night that way and still get where you want to go! And hey, if you miss a traffic sign as you're driving along because your vision is limited, and you take the wrong road, so what? Some of my best trips occurred because I veered off the route I had planned in advance. If your writing leads you in a direction you hadn't planned, go with it. It might be your muse fighting off the negative voices for you.

4. . . .You have to write perfectly: perfect prose, grammar, plotting, style, etc.

The truth: Thinking your writing must be perfect means that you are editing and then writing. With that approach, you will never get anything written. First you write, then you edit. Likewise, don't place so much importance on the first draft. There's a reason it's called a draft. Let it be one.

Lower your expectations. Lower your standards. Allow yourself to write B+ or C+ stuff. You don't always have to be brilliant, and you don't always have to turn in peak performance writing. Often "good" work will satisfy your ends. Plus it's your work, so you will have a chance to revise and polish your C+ work later. Give yourself a break: don't worry about being perfect; just get something written. You can always edit it later.

5. . . .You will never be a "writer."

The truth: You don't need a degree, a rite of passage or a dramatic moment to occur before you can call yourself a "writer." I used to think that my writing wasn't real until it got published. What that means is that I gave someone else the power to decide when I was a bonafide writer, when in actuality I have always been a writer. After being published, I felt no more like a "real" writer than I had before. Sure, I felt validated and successful, but I didn't see myself as more of a writer than before I was published.

6. . . .When the time is right, the schedule is clear, and you feel moved, you will write.

The truth: You should write everyday. Write something. Write anything. To be able to write, you have to build your muscle. The writing muscle. If you want that muscle to do much for you, then you've got to give it a workout regularly and build it up so that it's strong when you need it.

7. . . .You waste too much time thinking what to write about.

The truth: You have to think before you can write, otherwise, what are you going to write about? The biggest percentage of my writing work—and the most demanding part—doesn't occur when I'm in the act of hitting some keys on a keyboard. It actually occurs when I'm driving, falling asleep, or taking a walk. Because that's my thinking time. For me, thinking makes up about 75 percent of every writing task I do. If I haven't thought about my work before sitting down to write, then I'm already behind, even though I just sat down. Now, the time will come, however, when the negative voice will win if you don't write something.

8. . . .Good writing only comes when you're inspired.

The truth: Good writing also comes when it hurts. It comes when it's a struggle to get out. It comes after countless rewrites. It doesn't just come when inspired. My inspiration often is directly tied to my deadlines. The more time I have, the more excuses I generate. The closer I am to the drop-dead hour, the more the juices flow. The negative voices seem to disappear when the piece is due tomorrow.

9. . . .You're not creative enough to write.

The truth: Sometimes it takes a little priming—just like an old-fashioned water pump requires—before the right brain begins working. When this happens to writing students, I tell them to draw something. Drawing forces you to use the right side of your brain and think in a nonlinear fashion.

Draw whatever comes to mind. Or draw what your characters look like. Or draw a big circle with a little circle in the middle. In the little circle write your character's name. Now draw spokes out to the big circle like a wagon wheel. Label each spoke with a characteristic of your character or an action you want him to take or an experience you want him to have. This exercises your creative muscles without requiring you to think of words. The energy will eventually carry over into your writing.

10. . . .Publishing will change you; you'll lose your grounding, your sense of self.

The truth: Publishing can actually humble you. I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and poignant experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with daisies into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. The reality was that my son was home sick with diarrhea the day my first book came out, the New York Times did not call, and I had to take my cat to the vet. I was very grounded that day and fully ensconced in my life. Four books later, I still am.


Debra Koontz Traverso is co-president of WriteDirections.com and consults with writers to help them write and publish their books. She is also a writing instructor, freelance writer, and adjunct faculty member at Harvard University. She has published four books, as well as scores of articles in well-known publications and on the Web. She can be reached at Debra@WriteDirections.com.

 
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