Songwriters scribble bits of lyrics or notes on paper and file the scraps away in the hopes they’ll be able to craft a complete song some day. Novelists complete the first chapter of their newest books and run dry. Journalists experience writer’s block and can’t get past their first paragraphs. Were they all failures because they lost steam?
I don’t think so. Writing – and doing it well — is a lifelong journey. It takes practice, dedication and skill. As any writer knows, it’s not always easy; the road is often fraught with bumps and detours. The very act of putting a string of words or even two sentences together that flow and inspire can be a creative release or an exercise in futility.
Just because a song, a book or an article aren’t complete doesn’t make them any less insightful or engaging. And they can often lead to new ideas that take fruit later. Somewhere in my story graveyard are the potential makings of stories I started and dropped for whatever reason. The fragments of my work may never see the light of day, but I don’t lose sleep over it. I’m just grateful that the words continue to come.
The two easiest and yet hardest stories I’ve ever written date back to my days as a daily newspaper reporter. I spent an entire night at the magistrate’s office and was there for something like a marathon 12 hours. It was a microcosm of life in a small town, filled with a cast of characters that were too real to make up. A day or so later, I sat down and wrote for hours. I was in the zone. I didn’t worry that the story was too long or too honest. It was easy because the words flowed. It was hard because I put everything I had and then some into it.
The story ran in its entirety, thanks to open-minded editors and less pressure to economize than today’s journalists face. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m grateful for it.
The second article was easy because I wrote it from the heart. It was also the most difficult because I wrote it from the heart. The story began as a piece on the local pound, a sort of day-in-the-life of the animals over time and what happens to them. I became attached to a collie-mix and decided to adopt him for my family. But I was too late. They put him down the day I went to spring him. I cried for hours. And I wrote. I averaged five stories a day for many years, but I received more calls, letters and cards from this one than any other in my career.
Of course, not every story has come this easily. I still struggle in fits and starts some days to put pen to paper – well, fingers to keyboard. I sometimes doubt myself and wonder if I’ll reach that point where I don’t have to work so hard to be creative. Anyone who writes must experience those moments. Just don’t let them get you down. Have faith in your ability. The words will come.
On your worst days, remember that less is often more. Putting a few words or two sentences together is better than not writing at all.