My mind was blank when I sat down to write this morning so I thought about my writing classed. Just start writing, I tell my students, and before you know it, you’re off and running. This is true for any artistic endeavor. You may not know how you want it to look. You may not know if one thing will connect to the next or where the path is leading. Or if or when inspiration will grace you with its presence. But that doesn’t mean you should give up trying and go watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It’s all about starting. Making the first brush stroke. Singing the first note. Writing the first sentence and taking the first step with no tangible finish line in mind. Abandoning the “have-tos.” They break the spirit. Abandon the “shoulds.” They cause paralysis. It’s about finding the courage to start something and develop a great curiosity about where you’re going and how you’ll know when you get to the finish line – if there is one.
In my chosen profession, writing, I can’t count the times I’ve gone blank, sitting in front of an empty monitor, staring at 26 letters with no idea how to start. I try this or that. I delete. I try again. I delete again. It feels futile but no matter how many false starts I have, if I hang in there long enough, something finally hooks me, it sparks my imagination and suddenly, I’m writing. I try not to not think about good or bad. I just tune into how much I love the tapping sound of the keys. I love watching the page fill up with words. I love stretching my mind and my imagination as I explore what’s inside of me. Most of all, I’m comforted by the fact that however hard it was to start, once I get going I feel at home because I do it every morning. It’s a familiar, safe place to get lost and eventually, to get found. It’s where I take counsel with my most authentic self. I just have to get started and the rest of it takes care of itself.
It’s hard for a writer to drop the idea of getting published. We all want someone we don’t know and doesn’t know us, to give us support and approval. But what it if doesn’t come? I ask myself, Why do I write? What do I expect? Do I have the inner grit to keep going like Van Gogh did, even though he never sold a painting? Do I have the strength and determination to start something new and simply enjoy the process?
When I was six, my mother enrolled me in a ballet class with a diminutive Russian ballet teacher called Mrs. Koenig. I loved it from the minute I started. She didn’t tell me to straighten my knees, turn out my hips or point my toes. I didn’t know what a “plié” was or a ‘grand jeté.” But she filled me with the spirit of the dance. Years later, when my professional ballet training was rigorous, when I was nursing blisters and strained muscles and reaching for impossible perfection, I wistfully thought back to that small studio in Worcester, Massachusetts. I never enjoyed the ballet more than when I was with Mrs. Koenig, unconcerned with being the best, dancing my little heart out.
So it goes with my writing. At the beginning of my career, I had deadlines to meet and I focused on making the bestseller lists to measure my excellence. There was nothing wrong with that. It meant a great deal to me and I built a wonderful career, but I’ve changed my focus. I don’t imagine the masses picking up my books and knowing my name. I write to write, to find out what makes me tick and to meet unexpected sides of myself that I unconsciously tucked away. When I’m facing the task of getting started, I hope people will read my work but I remind myself that if a small number of people enjoy and derive benefit from my books, that’ll be enough. I’ve finally come to believe that and I’ve never enjoyed writing more.
What do you do just for you? Is it hard to get started?