Ever struggled with writing? Or been challenged by getting the flow going or the content? I have, and still sometimes do. As I look back there are a couple of luminaries who have been inspiring in my own writing journey. One inspired me on the topic of unblocking creativity which for me includes writing and the other inspired by about the content and craft of writing. Years ago I encountered Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artist’s Way.’ It is a profound book that I highly recommend to everyone who is interested in unblocking themselves and increasing your creativity. While her book, structured as a 12-week course, can catalyze a long-term shift in term of your creative practice there is specific tool she recommends that is just brilliant. It the ‘Morning Pages,’ a practice of writing 3-pages, long hand, of stream of consciousness writing done first thing every morning. The content is expected to be loose – for example, if you are stuck Cameron encourages you to write something to the effect of ‘I have nothing to write about’ as many times as needed to fill the pages. Although Julia wouldn’t approve, I don’t always do them in the morning and write any time of the day but the morning is especially potent given our experience of the subconscious the night before. I’ve done morning pages on and off over the years, consistently for periods of time, and they have always been helpful. First, they prove that you something to write – if you wrote 3 pages of something, anything, you have something to say. Second, if you have written consistently everyday, you have blown out of the water your own myth that you can’t/don’t write. How’s that for results? But the third, and best, part really is that you will be surprised, if not amazed, by the interesting ideas, the content and exploration that emerges from this writing. The downside is that you will have no excuse to not continue on your creative path, but I shouldn’t overstate this, since I know that humans are exceptionally creative when it comes to sabotaging their own creativity. Don’t do that, please. I recommend the book for what it will do for your writing but also for your creative life in general.
Now getting to the content and craft of writing. Years ago, I came across an amazing book – William Zinnser’s ‘On Writing Well’ – and it transformed my view of writing. Writing can be a struggle and in fact Zinnser talks about the fact that writing is ‘hard work.’ Paradoxically, the way he explains the art and craft of writing and their details makes writing start to seem amazingly more simple and doable. With chapters grouped in categories of ‘Principles,’ ‘Methods,’ ‘Forms,’ and ‘Attitudes,’ he covers it all. I especially enjoy the chapters on ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Clutter,’ ‘The Sound of Your Voice’ and ‘Write as Well as You Can.’ Zinsser gives us practical insights into the writing process and how he goes about it in his own inimitable way which is very helpful for the beginning and experienced writers alike. He also shares many examples by other authors, particularly those he admires including the legendary E. B.White that helps us see what good writing could look like. And finally, he talks in the introduction about his own journey with the book – how it began and how it evolved over different editions in the 30 years since he first wrote it. You can read a piece he wrote about that process, including his coming to awareness of the need to expand the voices he included by gender and race in his excellent 2009 essay in The American Scholar “Visions and Revisions.” Zinnser is one of my most admired writers and teachers, who I had the good fortune of meeting (he passed away in May 2015), but that is a story I will tell another time. Wishing you the very best in your writing and creative journey!