Why Do(n’t) You Write?

Last week, while on vacation, I spent one mid-morning watching tv with my younger two children. They channel-surfed between PBS, the Disney Channel, and the Cartoon Network with the navigation of a highly trained professional. I was extremely impressed with their efficient use of commercial time to 1) find other shows not on commercial break, 2) sharpen their persuasive skills for toys they just had to have (toys that, conveniently, were being advertised at the same time), or 3) declare their absolute state of starvation, only to be remedied by the resumption of colorful characters bouncing around the screen, resolving this and that.

One show, though, struck me as having a rather thoughtful script writer. I am going to guess that it was Clifford, the Big Red Dog, but I cannot be certain. The main storyline was this: well-balanced happy Character A kept a journal, while not-as-happy Character B did not. Character B stole a peek at Character B’s journal and was mortified by what she read. Offended and upset, she shunned her friend for most of the show.

When the show reached the final showdown between A and B, happy Character A calmly explained that journal writing was good for so many things, but it was never meant for anybody else’s eyes. Character A said (and I paraphrase loosely): writing is a way of cleansing the mind and clearing the path for understanding. It’s not that what is written is the truth in another person’s eyes, or even my eyes, for that matter. It is the pathway to the truth. To interpret it literally is, quite honestly, impossible.

And then Character A suggested to B that she try it; it might help her better understand the powers of writing.

To imagine all of this was promoted in a show about a big red dog! Bravo, anonymous script writer. Bravo.

In nearly every workshop or presentation I give on writing, I ask my participants if they write daily. The responses, for the most part, fall into three categories:

  • I don’t have time
  • I don’t have anything to write about
  • I don’t want others to read what I am writing

Now, these responses are from people who have chosen to take my workshops. There is initiative there to make a change; my heart shudders when I think about all of the people out there who believe so deeply in one of these three reasons that they don’t even venture out to see what this writing “thing” is all about.

I Don’t Have Time

I am always surprised by how much time I make for myself when there is desire or motivation to do something. The key is to stop looking for that big block of time that you might have once had when you were younger and responsible for little more than making your own breakfast and making your own bed. Big blocks of anything don’t exist in my life; I’ve stopped believing that great things will happen only if I had those big blocks. Instead, I piece my time together, and throughout the day it accumulates. Get up an hour earlier to write. Carry around a small notebook (Moleskine makes great little notebooks that slip in a shirt pocket, but an index card works just as well). Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) suggests that you make a date with yourself at least twice a week, at 2-hour clips, to write, among other things. Time exists for things that matter to you; if you want to write, then write. It’s that simple.

I Don’t Have Anything To Write About

You are blessed with a unique set of eyes with which you see this world, a mind to interpret what you see, and a heart to feel the good as much as the bad. The combination of those three makes you like no other human being, alive or dead, and therefore gives you the right to shout out what you see, think, and feel. We sell ourselves short by thinking we do not lead extraordinary lives, but our very existence is extraordinary. When my father died in 1989, I bought my mother a journal and encouraged her to write through the pain and the hurt. She resisted at first, struggling with what to write about. She kept thinking there was some audience beyond herself that she needed to impress. Once she started writing for no one but her, she could not stop. She lived for 18 years after my father died, and she filled twice as many journals in that time. She wanted me to take care of them and, someday, cull the deeper thoughts and “do something” with them. When I started reading through her words, I discovered the depth of her love for family, her thoughts on politics, and her strong belief in living fully for the day. My mother was once a cafeteria worker, a mother of five, a widow, and a shopaholic. It didn’t stop her from viewing the world in a wonderfully unique way. Once she discovered that she didn’t have to worry about impressing anybody, she wrote authentically.

I Don’t Want Others To Read What I’m Writing

Believe me, like the character on Clifford, none of us do. Reading other people’s journal writing makes no sense, because it’s not meant for anybody but the writer. It is raw, unpolished, imperfect, experimental, parenthetical, extreme, ridiculous, among about a thousand other things. Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards to discourage peeping journal readers. Others have resorted to codes, symbols, and hieroglyphs to ensure nobody reads their thoughts. I don’t worry about it. The benefits far outweigh the risks. Just keep the journal close to you, and surround yourself with people who respect you (and your writing). Encourage them to write as well. You might want to take the time to explain to your loved ones who might be tempted to steal a peek that you are not writing about them, or about their lives. You’re writing about yours, and for that reason alone, you ask that they respect your privacy.

We all find ourselves in situations where we want to do things but don’t follow through. I suggest you do this: go out and buy the cheapest spiral notebook you can find (most places have them for 25 cents or less in their back-to-school sales) and write about why you don’t write. Make that date with yourself and put the pen to the pulp. Write to an audience of one–yourself–and give yourself the right and the opportunity to rip those pages out and throw them away when your date is over. Chances are you won’t, but make the promise anyway. The important thing is to write–just for you.

3 thoughts on “Why Do(n’t) You Write?

  1. I love this!!! I’m inspired just by reading it. There are so many great quotes here!! I tried to tweet some of them, but they are too long. Love the one about big chunks of time… that’s so me.


  2. Awesome post!
    That they’ve delved into this subject matter at such a young age is admirable — I love it!
    Don’t know if your kids are into ‘Arthur’ or ‘Angelina Ballerina’ but there’s usually a healthy storyline in those shows too.

    Hope you’re having a nice weekend 🙂


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