This is not the post I intended to write this week. I’ll soon be getting up at 5am every morning both to write and to teach, and I had planned to cover the topic of how getting up early can make one more successful. But a good writer is nothing if not flexible, so I decided to let Hurricane Irene shift my focus a bit. Getting up early will have to wait. (How I wish I could say that in real life!)
Earlier today, I sat down to write a post on my own blog about Irene. My husband and I were lucky that our house was largely unaffected by the storm, but we had spent most of yesterday watching the small town of Pompton Lakes flooding around us. Police were stationed on either side of our street and many of our neighbors had to be rescued from their homes by boat.
I felt I needed to write about this experience, but I had no idea what angle to take. When writing about a time-sensitive event like a hurricane, one does not always have the luxury to think through her ideas carefully. I ended up pounding out a few paragraphs on how our town had been affected; then I pretty much just sat there. I considering hitting the “Publish” button, and asked my husband if he thought just a brief hurricane update for concerned friends and family would be enough to constitute a blog post.
Now, my husband Ted is a very competent writer. But he’s mostly a web designer and business man, and he’s only a writer when writing is needed to supplement his other pursuits. In short, he’ll write when he’s got something to sell, but ask him to express his feelings on any given life event, and he’ll tell you he’s got more important things to do.
In my husband’s very practical fashion, he told me that I shouldn’t write about the hurricane at all unless I had something really new or important say about it. To write about it for the sake of writing about it would be to add to the deluge of Internet “noise”. As I mentioned in another blog, my husband is irritated daily by “blogs or social networking sites used to spout nonsense” as those tend to weigh down the Internet and make valuable content harder to find. So he saw no point in my writing a blog post that was really just an extra-long Facebook status update.
But I felt determined that Hurricane Irene should rate at least a paragraph or two in my blog. As I pushed through, I decided to focus the entry on exactly what Ted and I had discussed. By the end, I had examined the pros and cons of Internet “noise” and turned our flooded town into a metaphor for the flood of extraneous writing on the Internet. My husband liked it enough to repost it several times; not bad for an article he didn’t think should have been written in the first place!
And this got me thinking. If I had refrained from sitting down at my computer until I came up with an idea, I probably would never have sat down to write at all. As it was, I’d already gone too many days without posting, and I would have lost even more time if I’d waited for inspiration before writing a single word.
While I love my husband dearly, I have to disagree with his writing philosophy on this one. When we refuse to sit down and write unless we have something important to write about, we might very well be sabotaging ourselves. Yes, every once in a while we may be lucky enough to hit upon a brilliant idea as we’re grocery shopping, bicycling, or drinking a beer with friends. But “every once in a while” isn’t good enough for those who aspire to be regular writers.
When you sit down to write even when you don’t know what to write about, you will force yourself to come up with something. You may not always like what you’ve come up with, and you may have to chase down several poor ideas before you find one with merit.
But the more you write, the more you will come up with things to write about. And in the end, you’ll be much more productive than if you’d said, “I can’t think of anything. Think I’ll just watch TV for awhile!”
If I had simply given up this morning, I wouldn’t have produced anything. Instead, I pushed ahead and eventually came up with not one but two blog posts. Not bad for a day’s work.
Why do so many folks assume that in order to earn the privilege to write, we must pay our way with a brilliant, never-before-seen idea? Perhaps we’re under the misconception that a “real writer” is always full of ideas. In reality, the biggest difference between the real writer and the wannabe is that the first spends more time actually writing, while the second mopes and wonders why he never comes up with such creative ideas.
In the words of author Julia Cameron, “What if there were no such thing as a writer? What if everyone simply wrote?”
Next Week: The Sights, Sounds and Smells of 9/11
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.