Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Janet Chester Bly
Copyright© 2001
If you wanna be a writer, you’d better expect to develop more than just your talent. 
You need courage to keep knocking at editor’s doors when they’re shut in your face. 
You need stamina for long days and sleepless nights when deadlines loom. 
You need persistence when you know you’ve poured on paper your best wit and no one seems to care much.

But even more, you must know how to get yourself started and keep chugging. Begi
nners need to know how to begin. So do the already published.

Getting cranked haunts you when you're stalled by e-mails and surfing the web and finally stare at a blank screen and find yourself muttering, “What in the world was I thinking?" Pushing through that block requires seasons of frank assessment. Ask yourself blunt questions, such as, what is writing to me? Is it a hobby, one of many pursuits and interests? Or is it a passionate drive? Am I in need of a healing catharsis for unresolved emotional needs? Or a way to feed my ego? Is this a means to feed my family? Why am I doing
this? Why do I want to write?

If you're gonna keep writing, you’ve got to want it. The competition’s stiff. The publishing road's narrow. Lots of folks want the fame of having written without the pain of learning to write well. Just like those old days when teachers taught penmanshi
p by forcing students to draw perfect circles over and over, writing is a practiced trade. A finished product rarely emerges from a first flush of inspiration. You may accumulate hundreds of pages of private slush piles to discover a jewel worthy of public viewing.

If you're gonna keep writing, you've gotta use the tools. Writing is one of the simplest careers in the world. Pick up a pen or pencil and grab some old sheet of paper or tap away on a keyboard. You can do it anywhere, even in a closet or under a tree. You scratch out some embryo musings that fuss around in your head and voila! You're a writer.

But if you're really serious, you'll take some classes. You'll attend conferences. You'll read bags and shelves and stacks of books. You'll subscribe to magazines, sign up for e-zines. You'll train and network any way you can. And you'll write a bit of something every day.
If you're gonna keep writing, you’ll let more than nice folks read your stuff. And you'll keep on writing when they're brutal honest and you've had a good cry.

You’ll figure a way to recycle your duds, as well as the dynamos. You won’t quit ‘cause you're not perfect yet. You’ll find meaning and purpose in every stinking word you ever wrote because it’s all part of your journalist’s journey. You'll pursue that next thing you find to do, no matter how menial. You’ll find the grace to chuckle at your false starts, stupid sidetracks, and inane scribbling...because it’s all important, all part of the lifelong process of discipline.

If you're a real writer, you'll discover that nothing in your life is wasted. Everything's fodder for the message, fuel to ignite the inner fires. You're convinced that there’s buried treasure deep inside you, if you can noodle it out somehow.
If you're gonna keep writing, you gotta get real. You can’t whip yourself because you’re not like other writers--in vigor, variety, or volume. You’ve gotta be you. What is doable today with all that’s going? What can you complete in an hour of
punching the keys? What’s an honest quota for an ordinary week? Factor in duties and relationships. The great China Wall wasn’t built in a year. And the paper trail that finally produces your unique writer may have to circle the globe a time or two.

If you're gonna keep writing, tell someone. Grab another human and proclaim, "I'm a writer." Dare them to ask, “What did you write today? How many words? How many pages? When are you going to get at it again?”

If you're gonna keep writing, expect to suffer. The brain’s gotta churn. The hands gotta fly
over the keys. The outline’s gotta flow through fits of hit and miss. The book pages gotta be turned, poured over, marked, studied. The rubber’s gotta burn on the highways on the way to the library or museum or that story locale or interview. The best title’s sure to hide behind the last possible clever attempt. The files must be sorted. The mess must be managed. The words must be thrown around and sorted through. To keep writing requires getting on your duff and staying there.

If you're gonna keep writing, patronize your peers. Get close to other writers who keep o
n writing. Listen. Watch. Grow with them until you find your own place, your time, your slot. When your God-given talent at long last meets a need in this wide world, there’s no way you’ll stop writing.

If you're gonna keep writing, figure out some tricks. Here’s some ways I get going when I’ve hit a blank wall:

Type one enticing word such as ‘thorn’ or ‘coxswain’ and pour out everything you can possibly connect to it.
Combine a stranger with a personal experience and an object in the room to play with a possible plot.
Listen to classical music while you scan a dictionary or phone book or encyclopedia.
Leave a half-finished sentence on the manuscript from the night before.
Read from one of your favorite authors until an idea sparks.
Study the first lines of ten different books.
Give yourself a research assignment.
Ask your characters questions like, “Why did you let him get away with that?” “What is the deep, dark secret you don’t want anyone to know?”
Look through a file of names and mix and match them.
Scribble a mishmash of nonsense until something starts to make sense.

If you're gonna keep writing, connect to your Creator. Your gifts came from God. Acknowledge him. Thank him. Release back what he entrusted to you.


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts and tips!!

Janet Bly said...

Morgan: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a nice comment.

Stephanie Shott said...

Loved your post! Very encouraging for a newbie writer. My first book is scheduled for release in August, so I have a lot to learn. I'm so thankful that those who have been there and done that so willingly share with those of us who barely have a clue! :-)

Ane Mulligan said...

Boy, is this the truth! :) When I have a good quiet time with Jesus prior to writing, the words flow. So why don't I do it then all the time? I'm in bondage to the tyranny of the urgent. But I'm learning to say no, not turn on my computer until that's done.

Notice I said "learning?" Haven't graduated yet. Sigh.

Amelia said...

Just found your blog. Thanks for the honesty of this post! I'm just getting started, and this helped me keep moving!

Patricia said...

My kaboose needed that kick. Thank you!

Janet Bly said...

Stephanie: Congrats on your 1st book! Tell us more about it closer to August.

Janet Bly said...

Ane: Delighted to have you stop by at our new blog! I think we'll always face the challenge of the tyranny of the urgent. But what pleasure, what a slice of heaven, to pull aside and be in His presence! I've put my devo books on a table in my bedroom, where I see them first thing everyday...helps a heap!

Janet Bly said...

Amelia, Patricia: Delighted to have you stop by here. You're welcome to come back again.