What’s so Hard about Writing Anyway?

Writing is not an easy task. Especially for those of us writers with such an intense calling to the profession that to deny its call means physical discomfort, emotional turmoil, and psychological strain. You think raw talent, storytelling, and the imaginings inside your head are enough to make you a successful writer? Think again.

Let us start with the basics. The foundation of any writing endeavor is the language in which it is written. Language holds very technical components that are not always easy to navigate, from syntax and grammar, to rhythm and flow, to word choice or meaning, to placement and sound. Those terms you learned (or were supposed to learn) in school like plot, antagonist, protagonist, denouement, and tense are critical to a successful story. If you don’t have a grasp of your language’s structures and tools, you won’t be able to learn to manipulate them to create meaning, capture audiences, or take artistic licence. Which brings us to the second must-have for any aspiring writer: Creativity.

The majority of humans imagine from an early age. Children imagine invisible friends and invent stories. Imagination is part of the human condition and it is good for the development and conditioning of the mind. But creativity is so much more than imagination. Creativity is what grasps the seed of imagination and cares for it, shapes it, and guides it to grow into something more. Creativity is a process of careful consideration, discipline, and the utilization of tools developed over time. It is the artist’s goals and community coming together to solidify, communicate, and unify ideas and emotions.

Where creativity is the process which hones the spark of imagination, drive is what ensures you actually start and finish what you set out to do. Without drive or will power, you can’t overcome those lonely moments where self-doubt creeps in and you are tempted to destroy the work you’ve done or just give up. Writing requires commitment and something deeper than just creativity to keep you going in the darkness. Often this will be a message that must be shared, a calling, or a curiosity to see it through.

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing is the company a writer keeps. Community – those you surround yourself with before, during, and after the writing process – is what ensures the success of your writing. The people who support and encourage you, who offer honest feedback, who inspire and guide your work, will be the people that ensure the success of anything you write. Without community, your writing is never as good as it could be. Errors are missed that affect your story’s message and appeal. Your work never reaches its audience. Without a strong community, your work will could be limited to the confines of your own imagination.

And those are only the basics. Then you have to develop and refine these basics through years of study, practice, and mistakes before you reach success. Writing includes character construction, exposition, setting, and structure. It includes learning how to engage with your audience, how to market and sell your work and your skills as a writer. It includes using your own experiences to inform your writing. It requires research, revisions, and determining how you measure success. It requires self-awareness and a willingness to learn. It includes an understanding the publishing industry and knowing the rights, regulations, and risks of a writer in your country. Writing is hundreds of hours of review, revision, and rewriting.

In professional writing there are no quick wins or easy paths to success. There is an unending supply of trial and error. It isn’t an anybody-can-do-it profession, contrary to what the cheap e-books or blogs or online magazines would have you believe. A successful career as a writer is difficult; it is work. It can also be a great deal of fun, but only if you are willing to put in the effort required to succeed. Yes, it is possible. Yes, it is absolutely amazing to be able to create stories out of your imagination. No, it is not easy to be a writer. But if you believe the work is worth it, it can be a very rewarding profession.

Fiction to Function: Stories that Heal

Stories are medicine.
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Our lives are filled with challenges, changes, and problems to be solved. These difficulties can become great crucibles, when we get stuck thinking or feeling. Perhaps, like me, you are faced with an event so traumatic that your mind and body relive it in the attempt to process, solve and prevent. When you are thinking and feeling and reliving, sometimes you get caught in an unhealthy cycle too close to the issue and can’t move forward.

As a form of escape, my young self took up story making. I turned people, problems, and events in my life into dragons, magicians and mermaids, castles, oceans, and valleys. I turned problems into journeys and fairy tales. It helped me to heal. The process of fictionalizing gave me a new perspective: one where I could escape a tumult of thoughts and emotions, create order, and find solutions. One where I began to see stories everywhere and that led me to my passion for writing. It wasn’t until recently, I discovered that many native traditions, spiritualities, religions, therapists, and counselors often use similar techniques in their practice to inspire growth and promote healing.

Creating stories may come easily to you, or it may be a struggle. But hopefully, I can guide you through a few steps to get your creative mind working and help you on your path to health and balance.

First things first—embrace your imagination. These stories are your own creations. They don’t have to be shared with anyone; they don’t have to be “good” or accurate. They don’t have to be written, they can be drawn, or just imagined. They can be stick people, they can be bullet points. They are a way for you to remove yourself from the situation and imagine it from multiple perspectives.

Creating stories is an act of mindfulness. Focus on the task at hand and accept without judgment what you create. Make sure you have a few minutes to brainstorm and create quietly and uninterrupted. Maybe during a coffee break, late at night when you can’t sleep, early in the morning, or even while you are in the shower.

You need a character or maybe two or three. These characters should have differing personalities and can have strange ideas about the world. Writers often use stock characters, or characters that they can continuously rename, reuse, or rewrite. For example, you can most likely recognize the superhero, the villain, or the damsel in books, movies, and other stories you encounter. Try creating your own stock of characters. You can also turn animals or inanimate objects into characters. Maybe you have a favourite type of tree or a pet that would work well.

Next you need a problem to solve or place to go. How do they get there? What type of solutions might a pirate come up with as opposed to the class-clown, hero, or villain? Imagine how your characters might react—how would lettuce negotiate with the rabbit that is consuming it?

To be a story, you must start and end. But you don’t have to start at the beginning or end with a solution. It could start in the middle and you could discover, as I have, that perhaps the only solution is there is no solution and the issue should just be left alone or left behind.

This is your healing journey; be gentle with yourself. Often we can be the worst critics of our selves. This isn’t something you have to do, have to do well, or have to do a certain way. This could be a need for you, a desire, or simply a curiosity to create a story. Treat it like it is just something to do. The less you expect of yourself, the more open and creative you may become. And here is a trick I have discovered over the years. Our minds naturally create stories about what we are doing, what happens to us, what the weather is like, coming up with whys, could-haves, should-haves, and what-ifs. It’s like fighting fire with fire, except with stories.

What stories can you come up with? What stories has your mind already created? Have fun with the process and don’t forget to infuse a little humour into every tale. And if you feel comfortable, maybe invite others into your story-making process. Make a family night of starting and finishing each other’s stories. Children are amazing at adding twists and turns and new characters to a tale and they infuse child-like humour into many fictitious encounters. You’ll be surprised what you uncover and learn!