The Truth About The Writing Life


When you are a writer, you cannot separate your writing from your life. Writers cannot not write, so writing for you is like breathing. It is so natural you don’t even think about it. I think it’s a shame that so many writers treat their writing as anything from “special time” to the last thing on their to-do list. Writing is life. And so the principles of life, or the truth about life, are also the principles of, or the truth about, the writing life.

I recently re-read a favorite spiritual book, and in it I found a quote from the author’s high school drama teacher. This drama teacher must have been a wise man because he always taught his drama students the following:

The Truth About Life

1. Leave your personal problems at the stage door.
2. Treat the material with honesty, dignity and without embellishment.
3. Show up fully no matter how many people are in the audience.

I was suddenly struck with a simple thought: The Truth About Life is exactly the same as The Truth About The Writing Life, and so many of us forget these simple truths, as often in our everyday lives as we do in our writing lives.

So as a reminder, for all the writers out there, here is my version of The Truth About (The Writing) Life

1. Leave your personal problems at the stage door.

When you are writing, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! What? Not about me? Well then who is it about?? It’s about your view of the world, your take on things, how the world appears through your own unique lens, and yes, you need to write from your own emotional experience, or at the very least you need to write about something you care about. But that’s where it ends. While you are writing from a place within yourself, or you’re channeling something from the depths of your unconscious, you are still doing it with one very important proviso. You are disengaging your ego, and writing from some deep inner truth, or emotional place. Get out of your ego and into the soul or spirit of your characters. You are a writer. You are there to serve the story. It’s not there to serve you.

A great idea is to have an imaginary hat stand, coat rack or even a cardboard box outside the door of the room where you write. Every time you enter the room to do some writing, mentally drop all your baggage, problems, ego issues and any other personal issues into the box or hang them on the racks and walk into the room unencumbered. Then, while you are writing, imagine that someone or something comes and whisks all your baggage, problems and issues away, so that when you’re finished, the doorstep is empty.

2. Treat the material with honesty, dignity and without embellishment.

I firmly believe that when you are writing, you are co-creating with a force larger than yourself. Whether you call that force God, the Universe, the collective unconscious, the spirit of your dearly departed grandmother, Allah or simply your Higher Self, when you truly enter the creative imagination you are only one element in many that go into making up the totality of your story. So when the material comes through (when you write it) you do need to treat it with honesty, dignity and without embellishment. Let it flow through you honestly. Don’t try and change it as it flows. Just let it flow, get it down on the page, and if there are changes that need to be made, address them in the rewriting and editing processes. Dignify the material with your time and your skills, and for goodness sake, don’t embellish. There is nothing worse than a wonderful story and good writing being asphyxiated by attempts at literary high-mindedness. If the character gets hit in the head, tell us he gets hit in the head. Don’t tell us that a large object projected itself into his cranium. Be blunt and use simple language. You will find the greatest writers do that. At the risk of sounding like another American self-help guru, you’re best served to “tell it like it is”. Thanks Dr Phil!

Go back over some of your own writing and see where you may have been guilty of embellishment. The beauty and complexities of great novels come from the story, the narrative, the rich drawing of characters and their relationships to each other, not from using lots of big words.

3. Show up fully no matter how many people are in the audience.

Write for the sheer joy of it, the pleasure, the beauty, peace and satisfaction it stirs in you. Write because you have to, because you can’t not write. Write because there’s a story that’s bursting to get out of you. Don’t write to please editors, publishers, readers, your mother, teacher or partner. Write for the sense of abundance it brings into your life. Turn up at the blank page or screen and write just for the heck of it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the only one who’ll read your words or whether you have a print run of 1,000,000 books ready to roll when you finish your manuscript. What matters is that you show up fully at the page, every day. Because writing in and of itself, is all that matters, isn’t it?

So next time you’re sitting at your page thinking “what am I doing here?” have a look at these 3 simple Truths About (The Writing) Life and remember how simple it really is. You write because you can’t not write. So leave your personal problems at the door, treat the material with honesty, dignity and without embellishment and show up fully at the page, no matter how many people are in the audience.

And watch your writing improve.

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