Writing is an Act of Courage

I strongly believe that writing is an act of courage. It’s almost a matter of physical courage. The second you have a brilliant idea, you make a point to remember it. Those of us who write know that never works. Ideas are fleeting. So we rush around looking for a pen and pad. Maybe we’re in the car, so we try to pull over and grab our notebook from the glove box. If you’re lucky enough to get in front of a note pad or laptop almost always what was brilliant before is somehow not so brilliant as you go to write. It’s as if you had a certain piece of music playing in your head that simply will not translate onto paper. And so you fail. You never really get that perfect work of art out of your brain.

What we cannot do as artists is consider the entire process a complete failure. First, do not call this phenomenon writer’s block, which means “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” Although writer’s block happens to every writer, it is not the end of your creative life. It can be simply a matter of timing. Some ideas need to percolate longer than others. It’s just not time to write yet. It can be a matter of fear. Truly, writers are often fearful of rejection, and for a myriad of reasons. It’s not just a matter of  fearing you’ll never get published. Writing is a very personal undertaking. Even when we don’t realize it, we’re bearing our soul. We all have “back story,” and we’re all prone to leaking information about our lives, our loved ones, our deep, dark secrets. Being genuine is risky. I’ve heard it said most writers don’t have a writing problem; they have a telling problem.

So what is writer’s block?

Jerry Jenkins lists the four main causes of writer’s block in this order:

  1. FEAR. What if I fail? Solution? Keep publishing. Don’t stop. Embrace the fear, because it is legitmate. Humble yourself. Writing is hard work. It’s a lonely profession. Fear can be a great motivator.
  2. PROCRASTINATION. This is a big problem for me, as it is for most writers. Procrastination is inevitable, so find ways to fight through it. Jenkins embraces procrastination as an asset. As long as you develop a writing habit, those times you’re away from your writing desk your subconscious is working through the story.
  3. PERFECTIONISM. Many writers struggle with perfectionism. Stephen King suggests you never show your first draft to anyone. A writer friend of mine refuses to discuss a project during the first draft, saying it spoils the process. Your first draft is for an audience of one: you. Many writers, including Jenkins, insist you need to write your first draft and edit later.
  4. DISTRACTIONS. Without fail, every time you sit down to write, even if it’s your “scheduled” time to write, something intrudes on your concentration. It can be a person, a pet, a phone call, social media. So ask yourself how important your writing dream is to you and take a stand. Select a specific writing time. Turn off all other media. This is not the time to use social media or do research. This is your freestyle writing time. Period.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work”—Stephen King.

What Stops You?

FEAR. Now there’s a terrible four-letter word. Some will tell you that fear is necessary for survival. How else will you know if something is harmful or fatal to you? I propose the correct word here is caution. Not fear. You see, fear will stop you dead in your tracks. Fear will lie to you. Fear is an emotion. It will make you question your next move, and every move after that. It will create doubt in your plan of attack. It will convince you that you are going to experience nothing but rejection and ridicule. Fear will make you give up. Quit going in to avoid failure.


This applies to many things in life. Some typical events that are interrupted by fear include proposing to a woman. Yes, asking her to marry you. What if she says no? Then what? I’ve already asked her dad for her hand in marriage. I’ve told my mom, who cried, then dabbed her tears and said with a gleam in her eyes, “When’s the wedding?” I’ve told my best friends. I told my brother and my pastor. Good gracious, I’ve told everyone. What am I going to do? See how our protagonist is ready to quit just so he doesn’t hear the word “no?”

Now what about writing? How many times have you bragged to teachers that you’re going to be a published author one day? How often have you told your mother or your father. I think it was well past five years since I first told my dad I was going to be a writer. I mentioned it once again, at a family picnic. Maybe one time too many. He said in response, “A wise man once said if you have nothing good to say, maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all.” You could hear a pin drop. No one knew what to say. My face turned beet red. I fought back a tear, and decided such comments don’t create fact. Action does.


Why do writers write? What makes them see beyond all the negative prognostications and decrees? How are they able to see something on the other side of the blinking cursor on the laptop? When it’s all going so well, and I am cranking out word after word that somehow seem interrelated, I am convinced I’m well on my way. This is it. I’m writing. Where did all this talent come from? Dad was a woodworker and a painter on canvass, so I must have his creative genes.

Then I hit a wall. A dead end. And I do mean dead. Like my fingers won’t even move. No thoughts come to mind. The characters are trapped, never to go anywhere again. This can go on for days, weeks, months. I hate to say it, but it can even go on for years. I had a wonderful idea for a screenplay. It had everything. Teenagers, music, a snowstorm, a party gone horribly wrong. Great opening act. Act One was a joy to write. I even had a good idea how the story would end. But I am stuck at page 57. Dead in the water. I’ve tried altering the ending. I even changed the moral of the story, and looked at various character arcs. Nothing.

So what stops you from moving forward? Julia Cameron, in her great book The Artist’s Way, takes her reader through a series of exercises and workshops and lists in order to get at the bad guy inside you that’s telling you what you’re doing is no good. The internal editor. This evil force is ultimately based upon someone in your life that told you there was no way you’d ever make it. You’re too old. You’re not clever enough. You’re not creative. Your idea is not original enough. I highly recommend if you are seriously stuck as an artist — songwriter, sculptor, painter, writer, poet — that you get this book. Follow her instructions. She will help you get unstuck and find out what’s stopping you from moving forward in your work.


Click here to visit Julia Cameron Live.

To the writers everywhere, just stay plugged in to the spirit that moves you. Julia Cameron talks about God being the Great Creator. She said God has instilled creativity in all of us. Our job is to get in touch with our Inner Artist. Why do we write? Because creativity is living deep down inside of us. What stops us? It’s a whole number of things, most of which are not even rooted in reality. No one knows where their writing will take them. I am grateful for the renewing of my spirit and my drive to create. It has put me back on my intended path, and that’s worth every word I struggle to put down on paper.

So write, my friend. Start with free association. Try writing the minute you wake up. Write anything that comes to mind. Your internal editor is still sleeping. He won’t see what you’re writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or word usage. That can all be fixed in your rewrite. Just write. You will be so amazed at what comes out of end of your fingertips at six in the morning.

Sometimes We Just Can’t Seem to Write!

There are days when I can’t wait to write. I wake up just minutes before the alarm, clicking off the switch before the piercing sound busts my ear drums and puts me in a 1984 sort of mood where everything is thought for me. Everyone tells me when to get up in the morning.

So I grab a coffee, black, and head to my writing area. You know, that place where you feel most comfortable and were you meet your muse. (Especially on a good day like I’m having right now.) I am working on a project that I hope will become a young adult novel. The main protagonist, a sixteen-year-old girl, has been hanging around with a boy who has really gone of the deep end with addiction. He is part of a group that seems to love drugs and street crime. This young man is Brad. He loves her very much, but he has been been trying every substance and drug he can get his hands on. He smoked a lot of Spice one weekend and ended up taking all his clothes off and running around the neighborhood. The cops took him to the hospital for evaluation.

So my muse and I have been going all out. I haven’t slept much in the past three weeks. When an idea hits me, I turn on my laptop and start banging away. It’s really a kind of banging at the keys. This, of course, is the first draft. It isn’t too much of a mess though. I think I’ve been writing this story in my head for over ten years. Maybe more. I lived most of it. I felt changing the main character to a female would improve the story line and give everything a different viewpoint.

Sometimes, however, when we’re writing, we get stuck. Writer’s block! It will cause doubt. It will fill us with fear. We writers have an internal editor that shows up during the first draft and tries to tell us it’s all crap. It will never sell. This is not the best seller you were hoping to write. In fact, you will never finish anything worthy of being published. So, we sit there staring at the blank screen, listening to all this non-existent criticism and prediction of failure. Trust me, this is when it’s time to turn off the laptop, put on a bathing suit, and go swimming. Stay for hours. Think about the story, but in a non-exposition manner. In other words, don’t think about writing it. Instead, think about the girl. Her situation. Who will save her? Feel the emotion of the situation. Don’t think about being stuck. And whatever you do, don’t us the phrase “writer’s block” at all.

When you’re stuck, your only job is to relax. Let the tension seep out of your neck and shoulders, and run down your back, into the pool water. Float on your back and look up at the sky. Take in all its wonder. Settle your breathing. Feel the sun on your body. Don’t picture yourself sitting at your laptop. Too soon to go back there. Get out of the pool, dry off, and sit in the sun reading a book. What? You didn’t bring a book? What kind of writer are you? Go to the library and take out a new novel. Come back to your lounge chair and read. Oh, I don’t know. Read till you fall asleep. (Sunscreen, my friend!) Then go home. Read some more. Perhaps something other than the novel you just got. Put on an album. You do still own vinyl records don’t you? A good recommendation? Hall and Oates. Abandoned Luncheonette. Listen to the whole album. Sing along. Go to bed. When you get up tomorrow and have free time to write, try it again.

Welcome to writing!





Waiting For Inspiration

His obsession for writing was getting way out of hand. The notes alone were pathetically disorganized. Just like his thoughts. Compulsions, really. That’s what they were. He’d found no effective way to stop them either. They just went on and on like a fast-moving stream. Funny thing is, he couldn’t tell if he was the stream or the banks that served to keep the water contained. Ironic how he loved to hike along rivers and creeks as a boy.

Maybe he wasn’t even the embankment. Maybe he wasn’t anything. He felt like that, at times. Like a recon drone sent from far away to observe and report. This was highly unlikely, he knew, but at least it gave him pause when one of those entirely empty time outs was needed. As an observer, you see, he was just gathering facts. Absorbing. It’s all grist for the mill, right? Take in all of the ingredients, whip them up, and out comes…

Here’s where he always got stuck. Out comes what? Not a clue. This was the very frustration of his miserable life. A painful and confusing spot to be in, really. There must be potential for something profound to happen here, at this very spot, because he would always just sit and stare, waiting, surrounded by the electricity of possibility. Patiently, always with pad and pen nearby, he would sit.

Just as he was doing right now.

Why is it that every time he was close to writing something, thoughts would race back into his head about laundry or work or whether Aspartame gave him headaches. Where was the lightning bolt? Come on, all-important revelation, where are you? I’m gonna quit this silliness, he’d say. I’m warning you. He didn’t consider this to be rushing the gods or threatening the muses. Not at all. He was a veteran at sitting and waiting for the great aha! to come. After all, there were notes and thoughts and ideas and character sketches written everywhere, on every conceivable writing surface. He’d taken to writing on his palms and forearms on a few occasions when the words just had to get out.

The last time this lull in inspiration occurred, he made up stories about people as they walked by. A little writing exercise, he called it. No one was exempt. Nobody too dull. He never said his imagination was infertile. Just sloth-like and in need of a shot of juice. Does anyone have a pair of jumper cables? No?

Back to sitting and waiting…

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is defined as the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. Writer’s block may have several causes. Some are creative problems that originate within an author’s work itself. I have fifty-seven pages of an unfinished screenplay sitting on the hard drive of my laptop. Although I have not experienced an overall loss of creativity, I am stuck regarding my script. Writer’s block may also be related to running out of inspiration. Sometimes we are distracted by events in our life.

Regarding writer’s block, I want to mention several things that do not help you to get unstuck. You cannot overcome writer’s block by deciding not to write until you feel inspired. I’ve heard fellow writers say, “I’m waiting on my muse.” Mary Jaksch, the Chief Editor of the blog Write to Done, wrote “You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike in order to be inspired. When you start writing regularly, without inspiration or even an idea, inspiration gradually finds you.” She said, “It’s time to stop waiting for the creative genius to hit, and to simply start doing. To prove (if to no one else but ourselves) that we are, in fact, writers. Because like it or not, the truth is that it’s not really fair to call ourselves writers unless we are, in fact, writing.”

I recently assumed responsibility of running a group for artists and writers at the public library where I work part-time. We will be launching a twelve-week workshop aimed at discovering and recovering our creative self. We are using Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Each participant will be bringing a project to the workshop that he or she has not been able to move toward completion. (I will be bringing my stalled movie script.) You can find Julia Cameron on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/juliacameronlive.

If you find yourself blocked creatively, start somewhere. Anywhere. Write a few lines. Don’t think about it too much. Just write and see what happens. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or presentable. It just needs to be written. Write for the sheer joy of it. For me, it’s not possible to not write. Get some words on paper. No excuses. No justification. You can write. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Just type a few words.  It doesn’t have to feel good. Remember, all first drafts suck. That’s why we don’t show them to anyone. We save tweaking for the revision stage.

For now, just write.


Found: How My Muse Came Back

The Muses were 9 goddesses from Greek mythology who guided the hands and gave divine inspiration to artists, writers, and poets. In colloquial terms, a muse can be a living person who inspires an artist and creates a desire for an artist to create. A muse is a guiding spirit, a source of inspiration of an artist, or a poet. It comes from the Latin musa. If a person says that a person is their “muse” they are calling them their source of inspiration.

I think creativity is essential for a balanced, full life. It is enjoyable, exhilarating, and fun. It needs to be honored and nurtured on a regular basis. Without constant vigilance, it can be easily ignored, impaired or impeded. But there are no exercises, books, or techniques in the world that will help you or your work unless you honestly examine what makes you tick. So, take a moment, sit down and think about your life. Remember, muses are not always attractive, socially acceptable, moral, or lovable. But muses are essential to the practicing artist.

“…as immediately I stopped disciplining the muse,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, “she trotted obediently around and became and erratic mistress if not a steady wife.” Most writers either over-discipline their muse or ignore him or her. Well here’s the key to solving your discipline problem. You need to realize you don’t have a discipline problem. You have a relational problem. You can either be a good lover or a failed one, a committed wooer or someone who makes lots of promises but doesn’t deliver. Don’t focus so much on creating a finished product. Enjoy the creative process.

Create a safe, comfortable routine so when your muse shows up she will feel welcome.
Realize that her main job, like infants, is to create messes. Therefore, give her space to make big ones. You can clean them up later. Avoid distraction while you’re spending time with her. No email and no Facebook, please.

If your writing project turns out well, say, “Oh well, I can’t take all the credit. The muse, you know.” If it turns out poorly, say, “Oh well, I can’t take all the blame. The muse, you know.” If she says something, write it down, even if you’re in the shower. If she said something in the shower and you didn’t take notes, don’t blame her if she doesn’t show up to “work” on time, later. Your muse is great, but just because she gives you a great idea for a new novel, it doesn’t mean you should quit the one you’re working on to go write that one instead.

I have been writing for most of my life. My craft has yielded poems, essays, journal entries, several flash fiction short stories, and a half-finished screenplay. I became an accomplished technical and legal writer through my career as a paralegal. I have also written a lot about recovery and spirituality. Unfortunately, I have never been published. I am not always confident when I write. When it comes to creative works, I fail to finish the project. I have fifty-seven pages of a screenplay which is stuck somewhere in the middle of the second act. I am struggling with a short story based on an event from my teenage years.

I came to realize that something was wrong in my creative life. It seemed I’d lost touch with my muse. I would often sit and stare at a blank document on my laptop, unable to think of a single thing to write about. I would wake up from a wild dream, ready to put fantasy into words. The dream was complicated and wonderful and aroused a plethora of emotions. So why couldn’t I write? Why wouldn’t the words come? This did not make sense. It was as if something was blocking me. Something was standing in the way. This continued for quite some time. It became very frustrating. I had this terrible feeling that time was slipping away. That maybe I was not a writer after all. When I could see no hope, I headed to the local book store.

I discovered a fantastic book on creative recovery by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way. Cameron talks about overcoming creative blocks and maintaining a state of flow through the practice of journaling and seeking God. She indicates that God is the Great Artist, and that all creativity comes from Him. She says we need to get in touch with our inner artist, and open up the channels of communication between us and God. She maintains throughout her book that creative inspiration is from and of a divine origin and influence, and that artists seeking to enable their creativity need to understand and believe in this concept. She writes, “God is an artist. So are we. And we can cooperate with each other. Our creative dreams and longings do come from a divine source, not from the human ego.” She says we are often blocked creatively by our internal editor. That harsh, judgmental, limiting, defeating voice that tells us we’ll never amount to anything. That we have nothing good to say. Many times, our internal editor is based on someone who has put us down in real life.

I followed Cameron’s instructs in the book and started writing what she calls “daily pages.” The exercise involves writing four pages every morning upon awakening. No subject. No hesitation. No spell checking or editing. Just writing down whatever comes to mind. This is supposed to get you into the practice of writing. Cameron says if we write immediately upon waking up, we tend to beat the internal editor to the punch. (I guess he has a habit of sleeping in.) I figured if I could get around the harsh criticism of my internal editor, I could reestablish the connection between me and my muse.

What I didn’t realize is that, at least for me, one of my muses is God. Cameron’s theory of God as the Great Artist struck me as being right on target. I have an inner artist that connects with God and is inspired to write. It is as if I am merely a conduit between myself and Him when He’s speaking to my heart. For the longest time, I could not figure out what went wrong. I had written some fairly decent poems over the years. This was especially true when I was emotionally lost, hurt, or crushed. The words were cathartic, and they would often just come pouring out. Now, admittedly, I think my alcoholism and drug addiction caused me to shut down. God could not reach me. The lack of inspiration was on me.

But as I came to grips with my addiction and got treatment, a lot of really bad negative, almost automatic, behaviors went into remission. It’s as if the underlying “static” has gone away, and I can hear what my muse has to say. I can recognize prompts and suggestions. I started carrying a small notebook with me again, and there is a legal pad on my nightstand. I sometimes have to pull the car to the side of the road and start making notes. I have a healthy respect for my muse and for creative ideas, and realize that ideas are fleeting. Never tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll remember it.” That usually doesn’t work. Of course, part of the reason I have found my muse again is because I simply started writing. My son once said to me that the number one way to get in shape for hiking is hiking. Writing is like that.

I can’t wait to see where my muse takes me next.

Why We Write

Why do writers write? Anyone who has starred at a blank computer screen hating the blinking cursor has asked the question, “Why am I doing this?” I don’t know about you, but when the writing is going well, when the words are flowing, and my muse is in attendance, I feel invincible. Have you ever written something so powerful you can’t imagine it came from you? Of course, then there are the days when nothing flows. You try like hell to write even one sentence. Again, you wonder why you’re even trying.

Why does anyone write? Unlike performing brain surgery or fixing a car, anyone can pick up a pad and pen and create a poem or write a short story. And, despite the odds against attaining the desired results, many people do. We fill our journals and attempt to write our novels and take our writing classes. We read voraciously. We read about writing. We read the works of other writers. We ask ourselves, “How do they do it?”

From a very early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thoroughly enjoyed writing and literature classes in high school. I became involved in radio broadcasting. I wrote for the school newspaper. Communications was my game. Unfortunately, when I hit age eighteen, I became involved in drugs and drinking. This was definitely an unfortunate development. I behaved badly, and ended up serving three years in a state prison. I was able to do some writing during my incarceration. I also took two years of college classes, earning an associates degree. I enjoyed the college-level writing courses.

When I’m not writing, I feel an awareness that something’s missing. If I go too long without writing, I become agitated and depressed.There’s something vital that’s not happening. A certain slow damage starts to occur. I can get away without writing for a while, but then I start to lose touch. I begin to drift. The longer I wait, the harder it is to get started again.

When I’m writing, especially if it’s going well, I’m experiencing life in two different dimensions at the same time: this world, which I am thoroughly enjoying now that I am sober and “present,” and the other world I am experiencing all by myself that no one knows about yet. It’s a wonderful place to be, this yet to be revealed world of words and characters and experiences. First drafts are very special. I write without stopping, not worrying about punctuation or spelling, just allowing the prose to flow.

When I’m writing fiction, I tend to forget who I am or where I am or where I come from. I am the other person or persons. I am the car they’re riding in. I am the cop that’s chasing them. I am the gun in his hand. I am the bullet he fires. I decide whether it hits anyone. I create the tension. I become everything in the story. I leave my body and experience something that is in the process of going from fantasy to truth. If I write honestly, in my own voice, I create something that will impact others as believable. That’s my goal. That’s why I write.

When the writing is going well — I’m not trying to sound cliched — I feel inspired by the Great Creator. I am well aware of the influence of God, who created all things, and who is there for every word I put down on paper or type into my laptop. During that time, it doesn’t matter what else is happening in my life. I can choose to include the external — let it effect my writing — or ignore it. When the writing is going bad, it is worse than no writing at all. It is terribly predictable and pedantic. It almost has a foul smell to it. It’s like the sewer drain is backed up. Nothing works. I have very little tolerance for things going wrong, and this causes work stoppage. If I stay stopped too long, however, I become blocked.

My first attempt at writing a novel was horrible. I had to throw it out. Some people would say I should have kept it, coming back to it later when perhaps I knew more. It was not good enough to ever bear my name, so I put it through the shredder. I also tried to oil paint once. My dad was good at it. He mesmerized me. It looked, well, not “easy” but doable. So I grabbed a blank canvas and started. It was atrocious. I put it in the garbage can. But my thought was at least I tried. You never know what you’re good at until you try.

I hope I can one day just start writing a novel or a short story and finish it. I’m good at writing for this blog. I am fairly consistent in my journal writing. I write Bible study lessons. But I want to be able to get lost in that “other” world, putting words together. Sentence upon sentence. Paragraph upon paragraph. Stream of consciousness that goes somewhere. What I have to remember is that ideas are fleeting. That great concept that comes while driving or in the middle of the night will not last. If I write something original on my laptop and it fails to save properly, I can never recreate it. The emotion was invested in the “first draft.” I have to write when it feels like I need to, or else I run the risk of losing that idea forever.