Excuses, Excuses

I’ve been reading Dorothy Brande’s Becoming a Writer as part of my weekly craft reading. In his introduction to the text, John Gardner writes that the problems facing new writers haven’t changed much from 1934 (when the volume was first published) to today. There are four key difficulties Brande discusses early in the text: the writer who can’t get started, the one who writes one book, the one who writes brilliantly but only occasionally, and the one who writes unevenly. Most of these problems, Brande argues, arise not from technique but from problems with the unconscious.

Much of what Brande writes resonates with what I’ve been learning in Story is a State of Mind. And that’s important, I think, to be reminded, to hear in another voice the wisdom that we already know deep down, but which we let the demands of daily living suffocate till the voice from within that we most need to hear becomes nothing more than a hoarse whisper.

In Chapter Six, Brande talks about “Writing on Schedule.” It’s a fairly simple concept. You sit down at the start of each day and decide when you’ll write. It doesn’t have to be more than 15 minutes, and it doesn’t even matter what you write in that time, whether it’s for a current project or freewriting or word-play. But you decide with yourself on a time, and you pay that “debt of honor” no matter what.

She talks in the chapter about climbing over the heads of friends if they’re in your way when that appointed time comes – or seeking solitude by writing in a bathroom if needs be. I found them humorous images. But she got her point across. You made a promise – do whatever you have to do to keep it.

It sounds like nothing when you think about it. 15 minutes. Who doesn’t have 15 minutes every day?

But there’s been days I’ve had 15 minutes, days I’ve had a whole lot more than 15 minutes, and I’ve convinced myself I didn’t. I was too tired. I had other work I had to do. I couldn’t think of anything to write. I even deluded myself into thinking that not writing was a way of serving my writing because I couldn’t give it as much time or energy as I wanted that day. I’d give it my all tomorrow. Or the tomorrow after that.

So what resonated most with me was her tough love at the end of the chapter:

“Right here I should like to sound the solemnest word of warning that you will find in this book: If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.”

It’s as simple – and hard – as that. If your writing is important to you, if your writing is one of the most important things in your life, then you have to be willing to commit to it. Consistently. Every day. No excuses.

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