I said the same to each: “I’m not surprised.”
Writing is challenging, and here is why I think so.
Writing is mainly a thinking and conceptual — or in-our-head — process. To do it, we imagine or think something in our minds, and then we must find a way to translate it to an audience through words on a page.
Although it sounds simple enough, achieving it is like running through a very long, challenging obstacle course that we are often unaware of, because that obstacle course is in our heads, intangible, and out of sight. But it is definitely there!
Physical discipline. Our heads are a part of our bodies, yet during the writing process, other than typing or scrawling on a page and moving our eyes, our bodies generally need to remain pretty still. When the topic we are writing about brings up emotions, our bodies often want to move to process the feelings. Managing that energy to write something is challenging.
Perseverance to push through the noise, crowding, and competition in our head. Our head is where:
- we keep thoughts and information private and protected
- we process and store knowledge of feelings and ideas we do and don’t want to share
- our inner critic is ready to pounce on us
- our internal voice(s) agrees or disagrees with our decisions
- we have expectations about what we do
- we process the fear about our piece getting published and actually read
- we process the anxiety about everyone hating — or loving — our writing
- the internal risk taker saying we must go for it — “It’s carpe diem all the way, baby.”
- the voices of our parents, siblings, friends, enemies, teachers, colleagues, bosses, mentors, counselors, and on and on have an opinion about what we say and do
- we process feelings, putting words to our true vulnerabilities and how we really feel
And that’s not everything! With all of that going on, how is it possible to sort out what is actually safe enough to go down on the page?
Being able to work through that cacophony and say anything of influence and meaning is hardly short of miraculous. It takes energy, patience, and courage to sit with ourselves, be vulnerable, and know we are choosing to take steps to expose our thoughts, ideas, and feelings that we have kept protected inside or are discovering in our writing process.
In my own efforts to contend with this obstacle course, I try to bring physicality into the writing process. Before starting to write, I might do some stretches, go for a walk, or if I have little time, do a shakeout (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU3h1Q3Dg4o), which helps me get in my body and helps my whole body be part of the thinking and creative process. And it helps me clear my head so I can focus and cut through clutter. And before I start, I often do a free write to help all those head voices have a place to speak and then clear out ahead of time. And once I'm writing, I’ll take frequent body and movement breaks.
I think often when people start to write and are new to the process, they can be surprised by how daunting it can be. Finding the exercises that work for each of us will help get us in shape for the process. Be patient while strengthening the "muscles" necessary to do the job. No one would expect themselves to run a 5K without having first walked, then jogged, then ran a quarter mile, half mile, etc., building up to the final distance. Writing, even if you have the skill set — the spelling, grammar, ability to create sentences that connect in meaning — requires practice, too. Like with many things, it can be harder than it looks. Yet it’s worth the effort.