If you hear a voice within you say ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. ~ Vincent Van Gogh
The Chinese poet Lao Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Your writing journey doesn’t begin when you put words on paper. It starts earlier than that: it begins when you claim the title Writer.
You have stories within you; you must otherwise you wouldn’t be here, reading this right now. You have stories within you, but maybe you can’t get them to come out. Maybe you jot a few ideas down. Maybe you don’t even get that far – you shrug your shoulders and say “Some day.” Some day I’ll write that novel. Some day.
No one is guaranteed a tomorrow. If you have a desire to create stories, you must begin now, today. And to begin this journey you need to do two things. First you need to say aloud, “I am a writer.” And second you need to ignore the voices in your head telling you that you are not a writer. These are two separate acts, designed to handle two parts of your psyche.
Names matter and if you claim the title “Writer” for yourself, it’s like a magic spell. Say “I am a writer”, and it’s true! The phrase “I am” is powerful. You are staking a claim to time to think, time to dream, time to write. You may feel foolish affirming your identity as a writer, but it is vital.
For some time you will be the only one to acknowledge this truth about yourself. As you begin to share your work with others, they will help you affirm this mantle you’ve claimed, but no one can claim it for you. It must come, like creativity itself, from within.
For a long time I had to have a second part to my mantra because each time you sit down to write it is a leap of faith unlike anything else in life. To combat the fear I would say, “I am a writer. And what do writers do? They write. So get going.” I had to do this every. single. time. For about a year. Was it tiresome? Yes. Did it help? Decidedly. I completed a novel. It wasn’t very good (more on that later), but it was the best story I could tell with the tools I had available.
The second part of the strategy is learning to ignore the negative voices in your head. As the Van Gogh quote above illustrates, ignore the voices; they will fade. Notice I didn’t say “The voices will go away.” I can’t promise that. I can promise that with time their volume decreases, and their import in your life dissolves.
Build confidence by Doing
Each word you write, each paragraph completed dampens the voices a little more. As you write each day, your skill and confidence grows and that also tunes out the voices because the voices are fear-based. I guess ultimately they think they have your best interest at heart. They want to protect you from the mean old world. Isn’t it better to stay safe in this dark room than to venture out into the scary world? That’s what the voices say. That’s what they promise: safe, beautiful stagnation.
Dare to create. Dare to tell your stories. You won’t likely be very good at first, but practice does make perfect. In the same way that you can’t sit at a piano as a novice and start playing a concerto, you can’t sit down with notebook or netbook and create a bestseller. You learn and practice and fail and succeed. It’s a journey, a glorious journey.
When I sat down to write what would become my first novel, I had just three things. A burning desire to write, the bones of a story, and years of exposure to great storytelling. I would argue that’s all you need. The first one will get you over the worst of the doubts. The second one will keep you coming back to the page, and the third one is your basic toolbox. I went time and again to one of my favorites – JRR Tolkien – when I needed an example of how to put an action in the middle of dialog or how to do a paragraph break in the middle of a speech or how to set up a description of a setting.
If you hear a voice within you say ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced……
Van Gogh’s quote presupposes that you have a yearning to create. If you didn’t, there would be no need for the voices to tell you not to. The fact of the negative thoughts, that alone tells you what I cannot – it tells you that you are a writer. Take that name; wear it proudly; dare to dream. It is a journey worthy of you.