Now, I want to make it clear my intent isn’t to bash the quote’s author. It’s that entire mindset, so prevalent in both the artistic community subset and the human community in general, that I take issue with. Not infrequently, I encounter it in the classroom when I tell a bunch of scholars they have the period to write something --- essay, story, whatever the assignment may be --- and I’m collecting whatever they have at the end of the period. I tend to get murmurs of disbelief and maybe the odd muted protests that tend to boil down to variations of: it just happens to be a day when they’re feeling so uncreative, they couldn’t come up with a creative sentence, much less an entire assignment, if their lives depended on it. In other words, you can’t schedule greatness. To which I reply, well, look guys, if we just sit here and wait for greatness to show up, we may be waiting a very long time. In fact, for some of you, the rest of your lives. (Okay, I don’t actually say that last. But I might be thinking it.)
In class, I call these days Creativity on Demand (C.O.D.) days, and something might smell fishy, but we all experience such days --- all the time, in every field of creative endeavour. I tell my reluctant scholars they might just as well get used to it, because they’re going to have a great deal of these types of days, not just in school, but throughout their entire lives. And then I sometimes paraphrase Nike’s old (1988!) catchphrase, because it’s singularly appropriate: so just do it.
Whether we’re students or adults, we need to understand something: regardless of what it is you’re doing --- writing or anything else --- you very rarely have the luxury of saying you’ll do this later, when you feel greatness upon you. At least not if you want to get anything done. You’re being given time, or have time, to do this now, and now is when it needs to be done. You have to be creative. Right now. And you may not be able to be great --- not always, at any rate, although greatness certainly awaits --- but you have to at least be good. It isn’t just your teacher or your boss who demands it; life demands it.
As far as writing goes (although this little checklist is also applicable to other creative forays) this is what I tell my students as they recoil in despairing disbelief at the terrible life truths I’ve just unloaded on them: let’s fill that blank page (and mind?) with something useful that will satisfy that awful taskmaster (teacher, boss, life) hovering over your shoulder. How?
First, deal with any pressure you may be feeling, and get past it. You can do this. Most of us are actually far more capable than we generally admit to ourselves.
Second, focus on the task. Give it some serious thought. What are you being asked to do? Make sure you are clear in your mind. In writing, do not start putting your thoughts down helter-skelter. You want something intelligent here, not vague panic reactions.
Third, come up with some key words or ideas you can scribble down. These form your rough notes (not a rough draft, which is entirely different). When writing stories, don’t expect that you’ll follow your outline in an ironclad manner. You might, but don’t expect it.
Fourth, start writing. So just do it. Many writers find actually starting to be the most difficult part, and we have to move on. Tempus fugit. You can’t spend forever staring vacuously at a blank page. So, just start. That’s all there is to that. Begin putting down words on the page (preferably in such a way that they make sense). Even if you hate what you’re putting down on paper, keep doing it. After a while, you will find your words start to flow more easily, and at that point, if you still hate the beginning of what you wrote, you can go back and revise it.
Fifth, keep writing. This sounds obvious, but in our Internet-caused Era of Extreme Attention Deficit Order, it’s not as simple as many people think. Don’t pad your writing just for the sake of it, but keep asking yourself what else you could add. Think of details. Use your imagination. Push yourself. You can do this.
Now, you may not be able to schedule greatness --- but the more you work on your craft, the more you work on being great, be it at writing or anything else --- the more likely it is that greatness will stop in and pay a visit. Maybe the Muse will stay only a short while, maybe she’ll stay for an extended period.
So just do it.