We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in introspection.

– – – Anais Nin

Writing is a simple act that involves arranging and rearranging twenty-six letters on a blank page – with some punctuation thrown in for clarification. I call it simple, but there are a lot of challenging decisions to make along the way. Your array of letters are at the ready in your virtual tool box. Your screen or the page is like a vision board that reminds you where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going and where you want to end up. Your ideas are beacons
that light up the path and your mind is like a stovetop with pots simmering on every burner, waiting for your attention.

When you’re ready to begin and you feel inspired, the pots boil over faster than your hands can skim across the computer keys. Like a planchette gliding soundlessly over a Ouija board, your fingers seemingly move without your assistance. You get so immersed in your alternate world, you lose time and place as you set out to create something that didn’t exist before. It’s like waking up, chasing
a dream and finding a way to seize it and hold it firmly in your grasp.

When you’re ready to begin and you’re not inspired, it takes a world of patience and grit to stay focused as you hope and pray for the creative muse to grace you with her presence. It could take a long time or she may show up in a minute. Or not at all. Like a hummingbird, flitting, sipping sweet nectar from scarlet poppies and purple petunias and taking off again, the muse is here one minute, gone the next. But whether or not she comes and however long she stays, your job is the same – to keep on writing.

Although the well known adage, A Writer Writes, sounds pretty straightforward, it’s no easy task to allow the process to unfold in its own way, in its own time, without trying to control it. We human beings abhor being out of control, but that’s what good writing requires. We have to learn to live in the midst of chaos and
tolerate not knowing where we’re headed or what might show up. None of the steps are quick, easy, or tie themselves up in neat little bundles. We have to keep moving forward anyway, blindfolded and trusting, loose ends hanging everywhere, hoping that we end up with something heartfelt and authentic.

A writer’s life is made up of unfinished ideas, dangling participles, and flashes of memory that seem unreachable, all powered by a yearning to tell a story, share a teaching or heal a wound. Moving forward takes determination, organization, stamina, more stamina, a willingness to listen to informed criticism, and a mighty desire to
express yourself and your ideas without filters. It also takes a lot of love, both for yourself and for your work.

You start out as a leader, dreaming up ideas, shaping your
material and placing the words where you think they belong. But with a little luck, you become a follower as you watch the words start automatically pouring out and rearranging themselves as if you had nothing to do with it. This is what every artist yearns for
– getting into the zone and allowing the progression to simply happen. It’s like watching a wave crash onto the shore and ebb out, leaving crabs, colorful seashells, and strings of seaweed in its wake. These are the pearls of wisdom, the hidden gems that inspire you to dive into your psyche, unearth the secrets that are hidden away, illuminate new ideas and use them boldly.

It may take some discipline to zero in at first. Pearls, in all their pristine beauty, are created as a response to an irritant, a grain of sand, that annoys the oyster so much, it begins to produce layers of nacre as a defense mechanism. In much the same way, the things we create are responses to challenges that need to be faced and dealt with. But we artists like a good challenge. We like how it awakens us mentally and creatively.

After trying to break down the steps in learning to write, I don’t think you can teach yourself to do it in the literal sense. What you can do is make friends with your inner critic, remove the obstacles to your creativity and allow your natural talent to shine through. When you make a commitment to trust your instincts and flex your writing muscles day after day, they will become strong, consistent, dependable and available.

Writing can make you laugh, cry, or it can change your perception of history. But this can only happen when you forget about good or bad, happy or sad, and get down to the business of writing. Whether or not you get that book deal or you get on the bestseller list, whether somebody else likes what you’re creating or thinks it’s boring, you can still derive satisfaction and excitement from your work with no particular agenda besides telling your story, unburdening your heart, and speaking your mind with a mighty determination to believe in yourself all along the way.

As you do your best to create something that is uniquely you, you may be pleasantly surprised to see what you feel drawn to. Or not. When my students listen to a prompt I offer them and settle in to see what comes up, they are constantly surprised.

“I had no idea I’d be writing about this,” is a common comment they make when it’s time to read aloud their pieces. In some cases, they suddenly remember something they thought they had forgotten. In other cases, they want to forget something but they find out that they have no choice as the hidden events come bubbling up to the surface.

So pick up a pen or sit down at your computer and whatever you do, keep on writing. When you stop second guessing yourself, your abilities and your choices, creating can be a safe haven, a place to feel welcome, an outlet to express your emotions and an escape hatch when the world around you seems overwhelming.

Feminist Gloria Steinem says, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”