I like rules and lists and hints and steps and tips. Especially when it comes to writing. And I’ve read them all, too, Stephen King’s book, On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird—all the classics. When people ask me for writing advice, I always recommend these books. There is a lot of useful information in those pages. And I always benefit from the experience of people who went before me, who are better at something than I am..
But there is one question these ‘how-to’ books rarely address: How do you sit still long enough to get any work done? Because if you can’t be still for relatively long periods of time, writing will be difficult. Your output will be truncated, or it’ll just happen in fits and starts and never get any flow or traction. Meditation, cultivating the ability to do nothing for a few minutes a day, casually observing the passing circus of life without getting drawn in, that’s the hardest thing to achieve, but it’s about the only thing worth working towards as a writer. Why? Because writing is simply the result of observation, of your own thoughts and experiences, and of those around you. You write what you absorb. If your focus is just on you, your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas, your writing will eventually turn in on itself. Especially when you run out of “you”, and you will. So cast your gaze out. If readers connect to how you see the world, they’ll buy your work. If they buy your work, you will write more and hopefully you’ll suffer less.
Speaking of suffering, I once told a boyfriend I was going to take better care of myself from now on; I said, “No more partying, no more smoking, etc.” Because I started to see a correlation between how I was living and how I was writing—both were not going very well. The boyfriend said, that’s all well and good, but you’ll lose your “edge”.
Whatever that was.
We broke up.
I started taking care of myself.
I started sitting still.
I wrote six books in five years, every one of them a bestseller. I don’t write this to brag, just to point out for me, there is a direct connection between sitting still and ‘getting shit done’. As for the romantic idea of the ‘tortured, misunderstood writer and their tortured misunderstood observations”: blah blah blah, snore. Learn to be still, listen more, get out of ‘self’, then get to work. It isn’t more complicated than that.