It's 2018, Time To Write.
by Krista Vernoff
You can’t decide today that you are going to write every day this year. You have to decide today that you are going to write today. And then decide again tomorrow.
Life feeds on itself.
If you eat sugar, you crave more sugar. If you eat apples, you begin to crave apples.
If you sit in bed and stare at the ceiling, immobile and terrified by life, you crave more of the same.
If you force yourself out of bed, and take a walk in the hills with a friend and talk about the dark thoughts, you feel better, and you begin to crave more of the same.
If you want to be a writer, but you never write, because self-pitying thoughts run on a loop inside your head telling you why you can’t, you crave and create more of the same.
If you get up out of that figurative bed, and force pen to page or fingers to keys…believe it or not you will begin to crave more of the same.
In 12 step rooms, you’ll hear this described as “contrary action.” You take the action contrary to the craving you’re having and eventually you have tricked your mind and body into craving something new. It works like this: you want a to drink a whole bottle of wine and wash down some pills and self loathing with it, but instead, you call someone and admit what you’re thinking and then go sit in a room and share it with a bunch of strangers who are all human and in pain just like you, and then maybe you take a walk and you call a sponsor and your sponsor reminds you to reach out to someone worse off than you and ask how they’re doing and you do that and suddenly you’ve made it through another 24 hours without that bottle of wine and you even forgot for a few hours to hate yourself because you were busy helping someone else and…eventually, you crave and create more of the same.
Contrary action takes conscious effort. It takes willingness. And in my experience, it is best when combined with the idea of small steps. AKA one foot in front of the other. AKA One Day at a Time.
In my experience, this is why diets and new years resolutions are self defeating for so many of us. Because you can’t decide today that you are going to write every day this year. You have to decide today that you are going to write today. And then decide again tomorrow. Your mind can’t wrap itself around “every day for a year.” It can’t wrap itself around “This year I’m going to write a whole screenplay!” Much like, “I’m never going to drink again,” that mountain feels insurmountable. It looks good until 5pm when someone pulls out a bottle of wine and you think, “Maybe I’ll scale that mountain tomorrow” and the tomorrows add up to years at the bottom of a bottle with no sunshine and no fresh air and no hope. So we climb the mountain a step at a time. A day at a time. We don’t reach the peak overnight and we don’t want to. We want another day in the sun. We want today in the sun. And the days in the sun add up and suddenly we’re so much further up that mountain than we ever imagined we could climb and the view is breathtaking.
Writing is like that. Small writing sessions eventually add up to something big. You take it in small bites and it feeds on itself. You begin to crave it. And that craving starts with sitting down today and putting pen to paper.
If you need a little prompting, here’s the exercise I learned in the first writing class I ever took.* I still practice it today.
You don’t need a computer, you don’t need an idea, you don’t need a novel or a screenplay at the end of your writing today. You need a pen and some paper. Set a timer for ten minutes. Think about a time in your life when you felt lost or maybe when you felt found. Start with the words, “I remember,” and start moving the pen. Any time you’re tempted to stop the pen, return to the words, “I remember” and keep writing. Write for the whole ten minutes, without stopping or going back to correct anything. And watch while your body fills up with something utterly contrary to self pity and stagnation. Maybe it’s possibility. Maybe it’s hope. Maybe it’s relief. Maybe it’s the sadness or the anger that’s been hiding under the self pity. Whatever it is, it’s a start.
You don’t have to show it to anyone. You can toss it in the trash. Or you can play with it. Maybe there’s a sentence worth building on. Maybe you accidentally wrote a poem or the beginnings of a song. Maybe there’s an image or a couplet that will make it into the movie you will eventually write. Doesn’t matter. What matters is you did it. You put words on paper. You told your story.
Now get up. Take a walk. Eat an apple. Call a friend. Breathe the air. Maybe check out a twelve step meeting if this article has you thinking you could use one.
Or…if you’re craving it, write more. If you’re not, grab hold of your willingness and try this exercise again tomorrow. I’ll be over here, doing it with you.
Life feeds on itself.
Happy New Year. It’s time to write.
*This exercise was inspired by the wonderful “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. For further inspiration and writing prompts, I highly recommend it, as well as “Bird by Bird” by Anne LaMott.