I struggle with the notion that it is not self-indulgent for me to spend my time writing. I have a tendency to prioritise other things, things I consider to be more productive, useful or relevant to the world. I also feel unconfident in my own abilities - I have not been educated as a writer, I am dyslexic, am not well-read and am inexperienced. I don't think I have the 'right' to call myself a writer.
However, I do know the impact that writing can have on people, and I do feel a difference when I have had a productive writing session. It feels great to empty my brain onto the page, to share stories and to see ideas emerge, mutate and develop.
Exercise 1 begins with asking what it is that we want; not just the big goals but those critical basic needs, the personal and practical, that are vital to moving our writing forward and building confidence.
What You Really, Really Want?
In order to Just Write we need to understand what that infrastructure of support needs to look like for us. We need to understand what we need right now to help us select the right help and identify the work we need to do right now.
We can set writing goals – 2000 words a day, submit to 7 agents by July – that’s what we want but we need to look at what we NEED to write in order to really get it done.
So you’re going to treat yourself like a character. Think about your full spectrum of needs as a writer and human with a life and commitments: you might want to believe in your writing; you might be lonely as a writer; you might need time; you might need to fix your laptop and clear a space to write. You might also want to set up a website, submit more, get an agent. All are valid. (Remember want means desire and lack. Don’t forget to think about what’s missing that will enable you to write if you could get it.
Task 1: A list! What do I want and need to write?
Start with a clean page / blank screen.
Draw 2 columns on the page - one is What do I want and the other is What do I need to write?
Set timer for 10 minutes.
And write without stopping.
Now you’re going to sort those needs into a hierarchy to help you tackle them.
Task 2: What are you afraid of?
So now you have your list of wants, we are going to go deeper and find out what you want but may be afraid of doing.
Writing is a risk; a massive undertaking. Because we have everything to lose without a safety net. Because we don’t think of ourselves as writers. Because we expose our true thoughts and feelings.
If we want to dream big we have to work out what scares us and why.
So the task is this:
List ten writing goals you are frightened of, believe aren’t for you or are beyond you and ask why.
Choose one that you would secretly love to try but you’re too scared to and add it to your hierarchy of wants.
Task 3: TRIANGLE OF WRITERLY DESIRES
Copy Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with segment headings onto a big sheet of paper. Make it big! Triangle of Writerly Desires
Look at the needs you’ve listed in your freewriting and sort them into the best fitting segment of your hierarchy of needs.
WORK with buddies TO FIT INTO THE CATEGORIES, COMPARE AND IDENTIFY GAPS
Here are some examples:
Basic Needs: material / logistical - I want a new laptop, to clear the landing as a place to write, get a routine to give me time to write, I need money. Train the dog to allow me to get some work done.
Safety needs: physical / psychological - I want to eat better and exercise so I’m not too tired to write. I want to feel positive about my work. I need to look for a new job that isn’t so draining. I need to get a cat, all writers seem to have a cat.
Belonging / affiliation - I want to join a Writers’ group, I need to surround myself with more people who believe in my work.
Esteem needs: competence, recognition, skills - I want to do that course on Folkore, I need to research where to submit to and submit more in order to build a profile in my genre, I need to sort out my website properly. I need to be seen.
Self actualisation achieving full potential - I want to get that first draft done, I'm ready to submit to an agent. – The goals we often find e.g. submit to agent / publisher are here but just look at how much needs to happen below to achieve them.
Using the triangle identify any gaps, for example have you thought about belonging – do you want to reach out to other writers? SHARE – TALK US THROUGH WHAT YOU’VE
Task 4 - Make space to listen to your fears and doubts.
Doer Vs Don’ter : The Personal Narrative
I don't know about you but I am my worst enemy. I have the ability to come up with an idea and immediately disregard it thinking it's not worth pursuing. It is literally like having 2 voices in my head. The doer and the don'ter. I'm not very good at letting them have a reasoned discussion. It always seems that the don'ter overpowers the doer.
One tactic I have developed in order to overcome this is to pretend that I am talking to a friend. I replace the don’ter with the dependable; the response that I would give when talking to a friend. This inevitably tends to be more reasoned and rational.
Here’s a typical chat between doer and don’ter:
Doer: I’ve had this idea for a short story that I want to write.
Don’ter: Stop right there. Why would other people want to read your story? It’s far too self-indulgent. All you think about is yourself. You don’t even write well. There are so many people out there who are more eloquent, more experienced, better at spelling and grammar and have more interesting stories.
Doer: But I feel I need to write this, if only for me.
Don’ter: There you go again. It’s all about you, you, you. There are so many more useful things that you could be doing with your time. Things that will help others, make a difference.
Doer: You’re right. I should be less selfish and leave writing to those who are qualified and talented at English.
Here is the alternative conversation using my ‘tell it as though you are talking to a friend’ technique.
Doer: I’ve had this idea for a short story that I want to write.
Dependable : That’s great! Go for it. I look forward to reading it.
Doer: But I’m not sure that it is any good.
Dependable: You won’t find out if it is any good if you don’t write it. Once you write it, then you can make the decision about whether it is any good. Take it one step at a time.
Doer: But I feel selfish for writing. There are so many other things that I should be doing that would make a bigger difference.
Dependable: Writing is not selfish. It is important that you do it for yourself. If you care for yourself, you will be in a better position to be able to care for others. I see a real value in that.
Doer: Thank you for supporting me, I am going to begin to write it now.
It is normal to have doubts and experience difficulties. It is also important to listen to these doubts as we can learn from these and understand ourselves better. It is also important to challenge ourselves and work through our difficulties. These are experiences we can use in our writing. The role of the dependable is to be able to give a reliable and unbiased response. To avoid the tendency for black and white thinking and rationalise. Recognise the doubt and respond appropriately.
Doer: I have had an idea for a short story and want to write it but I can’t because I need to be a good parent to the children.
(Note that the doer thinks they can’t be a good parent if they write the story. It is one or the other; black and white; all or nothing)
Dependable: It’s great that you have an idea and want to write. I know that your children are very important to you and you take your parenting role very seriously, but you can still be a good parent if you write your story. Think about it, could you write when the kids are at school? Or in bed? Could you use the time when they are at out of school club to write? Could you take it in turns with other parents to look after a group of children, and so each of you gets a chance to have some time to yourself whilst knowing that the kids are safe and happy? There are plenty of ways to be a good parent AND write your story.
Write a conversation between the Doer and the Dependable. Remember, the dependable is the character that gives an honest, measured, realistic and reasoned answer. The dependable is your best friend.
Tell your buddy what the doer wants and what the dependable says. Swap. Compare.