Don’t Think. Just Write.

“Just write.”
I was sitting in my advanced composition class, my last semester of my senior year of high school. Our teacher, Mr. Z., bore a stark resemblance in appearance and character to Mr. Forrester, which I loved. Sometimes I wondered, was it intentional? He never implied it. Years later, I think it was his best attempt at invoking a passion for writing in his students without making himself vulnerable by saying so. Mostly stoic, slightly sentimental in subtle ways, he never embellished praise over our work in the classroom, but we could see the hundreds of photos of past students he had taped to his cabinet year after year. Yet he was revered in ways that made the slackers straighten up, and made introverted writers like myself believe that even if my classmates hated my essays, his opinion was the only one that mattered.
His snow white mustache twitched in amusement as he stood before us and  repeated the phrase.
“Just write.” 
I looked around the room. Every eye was fixed.
“Don’t think; just write.” 
The cogs collectively turned. Is he telling us that we don’t have to try? That he appreciates a lack of thought? That the grades don’t matter? Or better yet, he won’t grade us? Please elaborate before I screw up the assignment, I begged silently.
Thankfully, he explained himself. The rest of his speech I don’t remember word for word, but that moment is forever echoing in my memory.
Except for weeks like this when I’m caught up in a frenzy of checking my blog stats and reading from writers that are way better than myself and drafting post after disappointing post that quickly coagulate into rotten, useless garbage as soon as I have written them. It all stinks. 
I’ve read several posts this week that have given me pause for writer’s reflection: What am I doing here and why? The posts I read, while convicting, while true, while inspiring, exposed my deeply rooted insecurities, making me even less sure that I wanted to answer the question. I don’t want to admit that I’m doing it wrong.
With the world at our finger tips online, it’s too easy to get caught up in being creative for the purpose of gaining readership and reaction – affirmation – especially through blogging. So much so that I rarely write just to write, but more often write about writing to gain readership and response from other writers.
When the blog stats tick up and then down and then dwindle there in that sickening flat line, I wonder where the vitality in my writing was lost. And then my insecurity spins wildly out of control and I question who I am and why and how I’m trying to do this thing called writing.
There, I admitted it. Step one is done.
Step two: How do I get myself out of this mess?
I tried to write it out all week long, battling against the part of me that says, if you blog about this, aren’t you bringing yourself back into the cycle of writing to be read? Nothing I wrote felt real to me when I went back and read it.
Looking through my arsenal of half-written posts that have never been published, I found the beginning of this draft that I abandoned a couple of months ago, with only his words,
“Just write.”
And I am that seventeen-year-old girl again, standing in front of my peers, essay in shaking hand, worried that what I’ve written and am about to share is completely worthless. And somehow, six years later, he’s still reminding me, quietly, in few words but in many, many ways, it’s not. With a steadying breath and his words reverberating in my mind, I tell myself,
Don’t think. Just write. 

Better Mistakes Tomorrow.

This is my new philosophy:
I am not perfect. Far from it, in fact, and it’s really been bothering me. I annoy myself, quite often.
It doesn’t help that I have this theory that writers, more than most people (except for maybe designers and politicians) are thrown over the coals for mistakes we make. Why? Because our mistakes are out there in black and white.
It’s rather crippling when you think about it. And I think about it a lot.
Like, for example, when I’m about to send a mass email to 2,000+ people, or share a Facebook status, or publish an article on a website, or post on my blog… the possibilities are frightening. I scan every word, phrase and punctuation mark to see if I’ve done it right.
… And then, let the palm-to-forehead moment commence!
Or not.
Either way, I’m terrified that I’ve screwed everything up.
This is my excuse for the notebooks full of ideas that have never been explored, the plethora of blog drafts that have never been published, the unwritten articles that float around in my head: It’s scary.
Trust me. I’m notorious as the picky, stuck-up writer that’s constantly correcting others’ spelling, grammar, punctuation and pronunciation flubs.
The truth is, I spend a lot of time worrying that someone else is judging me just as harshly. It happens! And when it does it stings, like a band aid has been ripped off and all my insides are exposed. My flaws, raw and real for everyone to see. A classic case of the pot vs. the kettle.
Jon’s first post on his new site reminded me today, though, that a plethora of unwritten articles, a notebook full of unexplored ideas and a blog full of unpublished drafts mean nothing. They don’t help anyone, least of all myself. Of course, as a writer I believe in avoiding posting the first draft of anything. But the real problem comes when I never post anything.
My old philosophy: if you can’t write it “right,” then don’t write it at all. But that’s not what this blog is about, nor is it an effective philosophy for a writer.
The true process is always the same:
1. Write.
2. Then right.
3. Repeat until you come to the best combination of fresh words and edits.
4. Publish.
5. Give gratitude (or apologize) when appropriate.
So, my new philosophy is about accepting my mistakes, swallowing my pride, and doing my best. And if I fail, at least I have a lesson to learn from.
Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfection is that nasty, cynical voice in your head, criticizing everyone around you and at the same time, telling you:
“If you try it, you could fail and that’s worse than if you never did it at all.”
In truth, perfection is envious of the freedom and confidence that others exhibit when they accept themselves as they are.
Maybe that’s why God made me a writer: it continues to teach me about grace. Our flaws are part of who we are, but they’re not the only part. The flaws don’t outweigh the gifts, and the passion that we possess to fulfill our purpose in life.
So here’s to tomorrow, to better mistakes next time, and the grace to write about it anyway.

[ _ ]

Why does this post not have a title? Because I’ve chosen the anti-theme.The theme is : there is no theme.The theme is : there is no synopsized, clever label for what my life is about right now.
Writers get very fussy when there seems to be no linguistic solution for whatever it is they feel. At least this writer does. Articulation is my life. I’m not the try-this-on-for-size writer that says the same thing fifty different ways of average. No. A clear, concise, carefully-crafted thesis is my policy. On the one hand, I’m proud of it; words are a finicky medium.
The best writing is like oil-painting. I’ve always found both to be difficult, because at some point you just have to leave the piece alone. An extra stroke or word or phrase will only make it muddy. The image will lose it’s vibrancy and it’s clarity, it’s meaning.
Sometimes writers don’t know when they’ve written something that it makes readers feel like they’re running a marathon on a path made of… pudding. Thick, messy, icky-sweet, utterly debilitating. They’ll never make it to the finish-line.
On the other hand, the times – like now – when I feel like I can’t articulate myself, I become too restless to let the writing process flow easily. I write, erase, rewrite, and slaughter.
Clear and concise thesis? Abandoned.
I’m left with scraps and ramblings. I’m left with a muddy, indistinguishable image of my life, where my thoughts and feelings run together like all the wrong colors from a dirty brush.
And I also find reading others’ writing tough to swallow. I’m often envious of the phrase or analogy that they were smart enough to articulate before I could reach it myself.
Yes! That’s exactly what I mean/think/feel! Damn. They said it first…
So I am both frustrated with myself and starving for inspiration, for something that doesn’t make me feel like this whole writing business is a spectacular myth. My solution-oriented self isn’t handling this well, clearly.
Before I get too whiny and cynical about “how hard writing is,” let me just say that I haven’t given up. I know this is only a funk, a season, a ‘tude, a phase. I will exhibit confidence in my writing through action, if not in thought.I need to put myself out there more. I need to write, write, write, even when other things may feel wrong.So I will.

Restless Writer.

Today is my ritual Writing Saturday. I’m at Starbucks, all by my writing self and a goooood cup of coffee. And I’m enjoying it… sort of. I have a lot of thoughts rolling around and none of them are very helpful. After a long, busy, roller-coaster week, I have nothing to show for it – at least not in terms of my writing.

Last Saturday I felt the same way. I wrote a solid 1,500 words, but none of what I wrote is anything that I would inflict on others. Now I sit, coffee in hand, listening to the friendly but distracting sounds of the cafe and I question, Did I come here this morning for the coffee or the writing? I might have just pulled myself into a bad writing habit by coming here instead of sitting at home in the quiet.

I know that’s not the only thing bothering me, though. I feel stumped. Uninspired. Frustrated. Displaced. Like something I once had is now gone; I feel the void, but what is it exactly that I’ve lost? I’m just wondering, for you writers and bloggers out there,

When you feel like something is missing in your writing, how do you find it? I have a feeling that many of you will say, “I keep writing.”

Thank you. That was very helpful. But how do you subdue the anxiety that accompanies the sense of aimlessness?

Truth be told, I feel bored with my writing self. Possibly, I am bored with my self self, and it’s infringing on my writing self. (Am I helping or hurting my writing by separating my writing self from my whole self?) When I become restless with my writing, it often feels like I’m talking my writing self down from the ledge. Don’t be so over-dramatic. The thing you’re missing? It will come back to you. Just be patient. Wait it out. Write it out. And then, my self-self gets frustrated. I am talking to myself. I am insane. I’m the crazy writer girl that’s going to start wearing all white and never leave my house. Or I’ll wind up sticking rocks in my trench coat pockets and wander into the river. Or stick my head in an oven and inhale deeply until the unhelpful thoughts go away…. See what I mean? It would be great if I could actually be satisfied with my writing self before the end of my life. (Disclaimer: I’m not actually suicidal. I just find it sad and amusing that so many great writers never recognized their giftedness.)

I know I’m not alone in this, so tell me, how do I talk my writing self back from the ledge? How do I break the cycle of unhelpful thoughts? Advice, please. For now, I’m going to keep working on an unfinished writing project from a few weeks ago and hope that it yields something reader-worthy….