Hearing Voices: A Brief Guide to Writing
by Mariana Ashley
We writers are a strange breed. Often idealistic, we also have to realists; often introverted, we are “people-people,” fascinated with everything outside ourselves. We also tend to classify ourselves as writers before we have written anything—this at least is my vice.
I am fortunate enough to write for a living, but that only makes days when I don’t write all the more hypocritical. In all my years of writing, there is one question that I am still unable, no matter how deeply I research it, how frequently I ponder it, or how desperately I agonize over it, to answer: Why is it so hard to write?
The search for an answer to that question has produced several conclusions, mostly about psychology, anthropology, and whether or not I should seek professional counseling for wanting to write in the first place.
What asking that question has not done, however, is force me to write.
If I have learned anything from my pursuit of the writing craft, it is that second-guessing the pursuit gets us nowhere. Anyone with enough courage to call herself an artist of any sort will also inevitably contend with self-doubt; art is an unconventional career path, and one that does not provide easy answers.
To be a successful writer, you only have to do one thing—write. Take your dream seriously. This advice is certainly easier said than done, but if you follow it, you’ll be writing your way to fame faster than you ever thought possible (I’m assuming here that, like me, you sometimes feel like it will never be possible, therefore any time frame will be faster).
There’s nothing easier to listen and/or give in to the many voices in your head telling you not to write, for whatever reason—don’t worry, those voices are normal, I looked into it. Half of the challenge of being a writer is finding ways to outsmart and out-connive those voices. But there are some devices that have helped me when all I could see was the vast emptiness of a blank page, and all I could hear was the belittling voices of my subconscious.
• Write like clockwork. You’ll hear a lot of talk about your “creative times” and some crazy theories about when you are most attuned to the Muse’s song—don’t listen to it. Pick a time to write, and write for an hour. Every day. Wake up at 7am and write for an hour before work; write for an hour right when you get home; write for an hour before you go to sleep. It doesn’t matter when you write, just make writing a consistent thing in your life.
• Set goals. During your one hour writing slot, have a goal to meet, no matter how absurd. In fact, sometimes crazier goals make for more productive writing sessions. Tell yourself you’re going to write one full page, two full pages, a new character, a synopsis of your story, an outline, anything. It’s easier to break your art down in to pieces than it is to sit down once every six months and try to write the next great American novel.
• Just do something. You won’t be inspired every time you sit down to write, so don’t expect yourself to be. And don’t just write when you’re inspired either. If you’re stuck, paralyzed, bored, beaten down, just take the pressure off yourself by writing something unrelated to your current project. Do a character sketch, try to recall a conversation you heard during the day, write a haiku, imagine an alternate ending to your day, make up a fairy tale, call a friend and talk non-sense. It is more the act and process of creating than the final product that inspires.
You’ll never get anywhere by questioning your abilities or lamenting your creative block. Learn to tune out the voices that would impede you, and you will have learned your secret to success. And always remember: if you’re writing, you’re on the right track.
Bio: Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.