I’ve been writing professionally for more years than I usually care to remember, and I am still struggling to fully accept some basic truths that other professionals have been freely sharing every one of those years: There is no shortcut, and no easy way forward.
Naturally lazy, and given to an “organized” frame of mind (see the plug for my book: “How To Organize Your Work and Your Life”, at the bottom of this post), I have been searching long and hard for a way to write great material in half the time using half the effort – without success. And I still have not given up!
In some ways, I’m like the kid looking relentlessly through the pile of horseshit because I just know it: in there somewhere must be a pony.
But I’m adult enough to realize at some level that my search for a shortcut and an easy way to write great material – totally driven by my intrinsic nature rather than by any rational probability of success – is pointless.
That’s right: In my mind, I understand I’m almost certainly not going to find what I want. So I offer you the same advice I have been getting – and hoping but failing to disprove – for many years. There is no shortcut, and there is no easy way forward.
What this reality boils down to for professional writers is that you must nail your butt to the chair and work. You must log the long hours. You must push through the tedium and the pain and the temptations of other things you could do instead. You must write long. You must write hard. You must write steadily.
Once you are willing to concede that writing professionally is not a walk in the park, you can begin to do the hard work that’s necessary to succeed at writing. As a bonus, you may also begin to see the value of other truths about the plight of the professional writer.
For example, you and your writing are separate. Writing a bad poem or a crappy song or a stupid story or a worthless novel does not make you a bad, or crappy, or stupid, or worthless person. You’re still a wonderful human being, and you must begin to recognize that a far more accurate description of what has happened is this: you have merely made one or more mistakes in your work. You can fix them, or you can leave them as milestones in your wake. Either way, you can and should keep working.
Here’s another important truth about writing professionally: that inner voice calling you bad, or crappy, or stupid, or worthless is just a voice in your head. Sure, it’s a strident, tenacious, negative voice. But it has no more direct connection to “The Truth” than you do, or than those other voices in your head.
Maybe that negative voice got planted during a misfortunate moment in your childhood. Or maybe it took root during a series of mistakes or misadventures you experienced over a period of time. Or maybe somebody intentionally inserted that negative voice into your head for some nefarious reason of their own.
It almost doesn’t matter.
Just don’t pay it any mind, or at least no more than the absolute minimum you can muster.
You might be able to get rid of that negative voice if you come in and lay on a couch five days a week and pour out your heart and soul to some therapist. But there’s probably no way you’ll ever entirely eradicate it.
So it’s more practical just to turn down the volume and credibility on that voice as best you can, and get on with your writing.
A deeply spiritual teacher used to talk to me about how he had done so much hard work over such a long period of time to get rid of his ego and be one with the universe, and how whenever he began to suspect he was making some important progress on that journey, his ego would tap him on the shoulder and say “Great job!”
That’s the eternal struggle. That and the search for a short, easy pathway to your best writing.
You will never “win” either struggle.
Which leaves you with the only fruitful course of action if you want to be a professional: don’t get involved in the struggle. Just write. And then write some more. And then keep writing.
Eventually, you will strike your own form of gold. And that, I can assure you, will be its own reward.
Over the years, I’ve tried and taught pretty much every writing trick, strategy, tactic, and plan I’ve heard about, and while some of them were helpful to me and to those I’ve coached, none of them has proven to be a shortcut. I feel something like the person about whom others say “He’s lucky.” The only response that seems to make sense is that the harder I work, the luckier I get.
Not so incidentally, I’m re-issuing my classic book on productivity and effectiveness: “How to Organize Your Work and Your Life,” totally updated, revised, and expanded for the 21st Century. Please visit my website for that book to follow what I’m working on over there, and to see if any of that material can benefit you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.