Friday, September 26, 2014

Conference Insights: What Would You Rather Do Than Write?

At the Writer's Digest Conference West this August, Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, gave the Friday night keynote address to a ballroom full of conference attendees.

She talked about how writers have to give themselves permission to face a blank page, and all the fears and anxiety and devastation and joys that process can bring.

There's nearly nothing more important than a writer working through --- or, at the very least, setting aside --- his or her inner demons and critics to get to a place where they can write. It's almost about getting out of your own way to be able to create and imagine.

The Big Question for Writers

Here's the big question Shapiro asked the audience to consider: "What would I rather do than write?"

It looks like a simple question. All but one of the words are single-syllable words, after all. There's nothing complicated about the words.

It's the idea behind the words that's complicated.

What would I rather do than write?

Is there anything in my life that I enjoy more, or feel more obliged, or feel more driven to do than write?

Anything that draws my attention more completely, or distracts me more readily, than writing?

The question can become even more complex than you might think at first. For instance ...

Would I rather research an historical period than write the historical novel I set out to write?

Would I rather dream up three-dimensional characters and create lush, detailed back stories and personalities for each of them, than write a novel starring those characters?

Would I rather come up with ideas about which to write than write those ideas to completion?

The Natural Progression

Because here's the next natural step. If there's anything at all you'd rather do than write, you should be doing it, without question.

Writing is an impossible business. It's a hard industry to manage, with dozens of hoops to jump through and dozens of challenges to overcome. There aren't a lot of people who make it through all those obstacles.

If there's anything you'd rather be doing than writing, do it instead of writing. Even if it's performing exorcisms or taming lions, it'll be easier than writing ... 

... unless writing is something in your blood, something you have to do to keep breathing, something you'd find yourself doing even if you were forbidden not to do it anymore.

Then you can keep writing.

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What would you rather do than write?

Think about it. It's worth considering.

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