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Thoughts on Getting Started
by Joseph Bruchac
Photo provided by Joseph Bruchac, 2010
One of the questions I’m often asked by students—sometimes with tremulous voices—is about the dreaded “writer’s block.” It’s as if they’re asking about the flu or the boogey man. “Do I ever get it?” “Does it ever get me?”
My usual answer is that I don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, I know that it happens. Sometimes people find themselves paralyzed as they sit staring at a blank page—a page that should be filled with sentences and paragraphs.
But I think that writer’s block only occurs when we let it happen, like when I cave into a sudden need to clean off my desk, or run an important errand. Important? Yeah, sure.
Why do we do this to ourselves? I don’t believe it’s because of laziness; I think it’s the fault of that internal censor that makes us worry about whether or not we’re ready, whether or not we’re good enough.
My advice is don’t censor yourself before you even start. Don’t be too critical while your work is in progress. There will be critics down the line who will handle that for you just fine, thank you very much.
Your job as a writer is a simple one; write.
Don’t talk about writing. Don’t worry about writing. Don’t overthink the process. Just put words down on paper or on your computer screen. You can always add, delete, and revise later. Quantity first, quality next. That is my secret.
That and getting up early.
Here’s my routine. I rise every morning, stretch, then walk into the next room and turn on my computer. I’ve made sure that the computer doesn’t have a modem or a cable connection. No distractions that way. It’s just like a smart typewriter with memory. Then I sit down and start to write.
Whatever happens, I make sure I’ve started working within an hour of getting out of bed. Early morning is one of the best times to work, and when I wake up I’m often inspired with an idea that I need to put down on paper before it gets away from me.
Here I need to give credit to a very dear friend, the late poet William Stafford. Bill told me that he woke up early every morning, sat down at his typewriter, which was in front of a window, and started writing about whatever he saw in the yard… a bird, or a ripe piece of fruit on one of his trees. It was his tried-and-true method of getting started every day. He often ended up writing about something completely different after crafting those first few lines to break the ice.
I once stayed with Bill and his family at their home in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He put me up on the cot in his study and, before everyone went to bed, he pointed at the Royal typewriter on the desk in front of the window. His typewriter. “You can use that to write with if you want to, Joe.”
Did I want to! Do salmon want to swim upstream? I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I knew just what I was going to do. I was going to rise with the sun, sit at that magic typewriter, and bang out a morning poem just like my mentor.
I woke with the sun. Jumped out of bed. Ran to the typewriter. Rolled a piece of paper into it with trembling hands. Then I heard it from the other room. The sound of clicking keys. It was, of course, Bill Stafford. He’d already written four poems that morning, sitting in front of another typewriter at his kitchen table.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Joseph Bruchac.
Hear Joseph Bruchac tell the story of his name, including two interesting translations of his last name.
Hear Joseph Bruchac introduce and read from his book Skeleton Man (FSG 1999)
Access all of TeachingBooks.net’s online resources about Joseph Bruchac and his books.
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