Writing: Verb, present continuous

The wall above my desk with the list of ways to write every day flanked by photos taken at Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.
The wall above my desk with the list of ways to write every day flanked by photos taken at Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.

It is a common habit among writer friends of mine to worry about whether or not they really are a writer. Writers, after all, write. And if one isn’t writing, can one still call them self a writer?

This self-doubt can paralyze even the most talented writers.

The funny thing about ‘writing’ is that it exists as both a noun and a verb. Unfortunately we tend to see the noun as the one worthy of credit and value while discounting or forgetting the verb that’s required to get to a finished, sellable project.

The common advice to young or inexperienced writers who want to make a career of writing is to write every day. It sounds easy, but convincing yourself to do so when you’re tired and just feel like watching crummy t.v. instead is a challenge.

For me, sitting down to write is still not built into my daily schedule. It still requires a lot of effort for me to settle in at my desk at the end of a long day of work or on my days off and put pen to paper. Yes, I still use a pen and paper (and cursive!), at least when I’m first drafting a piece. I even have a typewriter I bring out from time to time!

Today's blog post started out on paper, in longhand, with an entirely different idea!
Today’s blog post started out on paper, in longhand with an entirely different idea!

I’ve been doing little bits of writing each night I can muster the energy, even just for five minutes here or 20 minutes there. Just a bit at a time. I’ve started to think of it as a training exercise and it seems to be helping. When I was doing gymnastics, I spent between 16 and 20 hours a week in the gym practicing, doing and re-doing routines. And I won a gold medal at nationals because of that. Why should writing be any different? To write well, you need to practice.

Even though many (if not most) people can string together words to create sentences and mash those sentences together to create paragraphs and documents, writing well is a vocation and a skill. Like golf, it’s something you practice your whole life and never truly master. But you still practice anyway because it just makes you tick.

For me this blog is a weekly exercise in style, form, voice and tone; the writing equivalent of hitting the driving range. It’s also a place to channel thoughts and ideas that may not be perfectly sellable to a magazine or website. And sometimes the words just don’t come.

Sometimes you get stuck on a piece that won’t budge. Other days the words just don’t come out right. Sometimes everything you put on the page just reads like a big pile of garbage. But not even the top golfers hit a hole-in-one every time. For those days, I have a list (adapted from this one) of this I consider writing (seen in the photo abpve).

Just as important is knowing when to stop on a project. For me, I try to remember this Hemingway quote:

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.-As quoted in Reporting (1964) by Lillian Ross

There’s more than one way to write and each person’s process is different. But the goal, I think, is always the same: to do it well. Once you figure out the verb, the noun will take care of itself.

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