✍️ Showing Up to Write
or, We Can’t Control the Fish, Only the Fishing Rod
There’s this guy who apparently is a guru music producer. A guy I hadn’t heard of. Now, I don’t have anything to do with the music world, but I do watch scores of music documentaries (oops – pun not intended). I can tell you why Duran Duran shot the videos in Sri Lanka. I can trace back U2’s signature style to Brian Eno’s electronic music experiments. I know about Sid and Nancy. Yet somehow I didn’t hear about this guy who helped create dozens of albums from big-name music acts.
I don’t really like the term “guru” because it conjures up mystical images of long-haired bearded men in long flowing robes. Except that’s what he actually looks like. He is far from “active” in the studio. One rapper said, “(He) was on the couch and we were in the booth and I’m wondering, ‘Is he asleep or awake or what?’ And then he makes a couples of suggestions and boom, boom, boom, boom, and sure enough it unfolds itself and we’re like, ‘Ahhh…’”
Here’s another surprise. He’s not a musician or even musically inclined. He just likes what he likes. So if something isn’t working for him, he’ll ask the artist to try this or try that. From the praise he gets, the approach works.
So how did I hear about the guy? I bought a book. The Creative Act: A Way of Being. I’ll go more in length in a future post, because the book is incredibly interesting and useful. But there wasn’t an author bio or background or list of other works. So I looked up his name: Rick Rubin. And here we are.
One of the many truisms in his book is this: “We cannot control the fish, only the presence of our line.”
That seems to be his approach to music producing. Get in the studio. Do the work. Sell a million records.
Seems like a reasonable plan.
Where’s Your Fishing Tackle?
I used to fish, but not anymore. I do know that you catch considerably fewer fish sitting in the cabin drinking beer than you do in the boat with your line in the water. This sounds like an obvious statement – and it is.
But here’s the thing. Many writers believe the opposite when it comes to writing. I think we’ve all been guilty of it, actually. We don’t get into the boat until the fish come to us. Totally bass-ackwards (pun intended this time).
For many of us, the sheer act of showing up is a stumbling block in itself. I have some theories on this. (Are you surprised?) Let’s start at the root. You ask a writer, “Do you want to write?” and they answer, “YES!” You ask a writer, “Do you want to write right now?” and they answer, “ummm….”
It’s easy to dismiss it as laziness or procrastination. But I think that’s too easy. “Laziness” comes in many forms. Are you too tired after working all day to be creative? Are you worried that the dishes need done and the grass needs cut and the leak that’s causing a puddle in your basement needs fixed?
If you just can’t be bothered, I can’t help you there. Find a way to get motivated or move on and find another interest! Since you’re reading this though, let’s assume there is something else at work such as:
Fear (yup, that ol’ chestnut)
Not knowing what to write about (it’s a chicken/egg sitch whether this feeds fear or vice versa)
There are probably other things that keep us from getting into that fishing boat. Please chime in with your particular brand of hurdle in the comments below!
How to Fish
Luckily, there are a few strategies we can use to get ourselves sitting down at our writing desk.
If dishes are stopping us, do the dishes. Then reward yourself with some writing time. Ditto the leaking sink, lawn care, and whatever else is weighing on your mind to the point of squashing your creativity.
If you’re too tired, schedule some time when you know (a) you won’t be tired and (b) you’ll be available.
If you have one or more of the many fears, search through my Substack posts to date – I’ve talked about many of them already. If you can’t find it, do a search such as “overcoming fear of writing” to find what you need. (And by all means, contact me or leave a comment about your particular fear and I’ll write about it in a future post!)
If you don’t know what to write about, don’t let that stop you from sitting down. Here are some great strategies for finding material:
Write to understand what you’re writing about (click the link for more on that)
Use the Pomodoro Technique in combination with a writing prompt – or the first idea that jumps to mind, no matter how good/bad/ugly it is. Something may come of it!
Turn up the radio and write whatever comes to mind
Notice that none of these strategies involve surfing the net or reading the news or some of the other common ways we avoid writing. This isn’t the time for research. Besides, you’ve done all that already. Time to dig into your memory for the gold nuggets you’ve already mined from those sources!
Remember, the idea here is to show up and to put your line in the water. (That is to say, you can’t just sit in the boat – aka your desk – you have to fish!)
Key Takeaway: Sitting down at your desk to write is half the battle. We avoid it for many reasons including fear, tiredness, other demands on our time, and that ubiquitous writer’s block, a catch-all for everything that ails the creative soul. Fulfil your commitments. Fix your leaky sinks. Then sit and reward yourself with writing, even if you have nothing yet to write about. Unless you’re putting pen to paper sometime, you’ll never get anywhere.
Over to You – How Big Was the Fish You Caught?
Did you manage to find some good words after slogging through the bad? Could you turn off the world around you? Does your lawn look splendiferous? Let us know how your fishing expedition went in the comments below!
Below is a clip of Rick Rubin on 60 Minutes (the full interview is blocked in Canada, but you may be able to get it in the US and elsewhere…)
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
PS - I mentioned my WIP novel the last post. Since some of you have asked: it’s going very well and I’ve been picking up steam over the summer. That’s mostly because I (finally) have a great handle on the plot, which until recently was elusive to say the least! Plus, I just passed a fairly big milestone. I expect work will go much faster and easier now – until the next hiccup, that is… lol
email me if you get lost.