How many times have you heard this advice? For me, it’s almost every week. It pops up on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It’s in the pages of beloved books on writing practice: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.
In one context, “just write” is a profound truth. It inspires. It lifts you up and lights a fire beneath you.
At other times, this advice falls flat. Depending on where you’re at, “just write” can cause damage. When I hear this maxim, I think of Niels Bohr who said,
“The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”
You wouldn’t tell a person––let’s say a former track star––who’s been in a coma for five years to “just run.” You wouldn’t berate her for excuses. You wouldn’t call her lazy. She simply doesn’t have the muscle mass to get out of bed.
No, you help her rebuild strength. First, she re-learns to eat––how to hold a spoon, how to chew and swallow. Next, she learns to pull herself up. After a few weeks, she stands on her own.
It might take a full year before she jogs around a track. But she’ll get there by building her muscles.
Many non-writing writers are so weighed down with fear, unworthiness, and overwhelm that “just write” sounds like “climb Mount Everest without oxygen.”
They give up before they begin.
Telling a non-writing writer to “just write” doesn’t work because their intrinsic muscles are atrophied.
I’d know. I was that non-writing writer. When I heard “just write,” it got my butt in the chair. But I’d get anxious and frustrated and depressed at the sewage splattering onto the white page. I’d stop after 10 minutes. I was afraid to go back. I continued to write only when inspired (which was rare). Or I simply didn’t write at all.
For the last few years, I’ve been neck deep in research on habits, success, effectiveness, and motivation. I wanted to know what made fruitful writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King tick. I discovered that for most of us, it takes strong inner muscles to keep a regular writing routine that endures.
After all that research, here’s my thesis:
Fruitful and productive writers have an intrinsic muscle set that helps them write with courage, keep the ass in the chair, and finish their most cherished projects––even when they feel frozen or overwhelmed with fear.
I call this muscle set The 7 Muscles of Highly Fruitful Writers. I’m passionate about helping frozen writers understand this concept. I’m holding a webinar on the subject every first Thursday of the month at 12 PM Pacific on Instagram Live.
No registration or email necessary. Just pop over to Instagram and click on my profile pic every third Thursday at 12 PM PST.
As always, thanks for sharing your time with me. May your writing life be strong and courageous in 2019. ✨