“You must have so much discipline!” non-writers exclaim when they discover my profession. “Do you write every day?” They gaze in wonder.
“A writing day is a good day,” I say. “The hardest part is not writing. When there’s too much else I have to do, so my mind won’t settle down. I’m not happy then.”
“Oh, I could never get myself to write regularly.” But each woman who says this to me could fill herself with satisfaction if she found the impetus to start. Beginning. That’s the hardest part. It’s like exercise. Once we build momentum, the process takes over until we’re humming with pleasure.
So many women yearn for creative self-expression. If writing is the activity that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning ready to go, be brave and plunge in. Some artists find the same exquisite pleasure in painting or sculpting. Weaving or printmaking. But if playing with words lifts your heart and causes you to lose all track of time when you’re deep into a writing project, trust your intuition to find the form that suits you best. And as time goes on you will figure out the money part, even if you have to squeeze writing into early morning or late evening hours.
I’m surprised whenever writers grumble about how hard their lives are. That’s not been my experience, even when I’m worrying mid-book or mid–essay, Where is this piece headed? Am I totally off track? Writing is hard work, but it's the good kind of hard, the kind where the writer feels stretched, challenged, completely involved. Ideas float into my mind while I’m on a walk or driving, or in the middle of the night. Still, no matter how much work I’ve put into it, occasionally a book doesn’t sell or I can’t place an essay, and that’s part of the writing life. Then, as consolation, I have to remember the joy I got from creating the piece and move on.
Since childhood I’ve loved playing with words, creating well-crafted sentences, moving my hand across the yellow pad of paper. Later, during busy years of child-raising, full-time jobs, and night school, I found little time for formal writing. But late at night I poured my desires and frustrations into a journal, which exercised the writing muscle. Sometimes I experimented with poetry. And always I read voraciously, savoring fine language as much as the sentiments.
Of course I write to communicate and publishing thrills me, but the sheer act of writing itself is gratifying. Simply creating a felicitous sentence or phrase is ecstasy, especially because the best ones seem to flow from my fingertips unbidden, leaving me to wonder, Where did that come from? What deep creative wells live in our unconscious minds, ready to spring forward with surprising images before our rational brains can censor them? I don’t understand the mystery, but I’m grateful for it.
I love stretching myself too by learning new genres: personal essay, women’s self-help, biography, young adult fiction, and adult fiction. Becoming proficient in many categories and styles of writing is a challenge, which keeps me interested.
The satisfaction is endless. There’s always a new project at hand or an old one awaiting revision; life provides an infinite source of ideas. I look back at my first book and understand that, like the birth of a first child, the moment of its publication fundamentally changed me. It marked my evolution from a woman who’d always “wanted to be a writer” to one who, finally, was one. A woman who sits alone in her cottage banging away on the keyboard, having the time of her life.
May you be blessed with the same unfolding joy, may your writing flow, and may the world reward your efforts.
Award-winning author Dr. Joan Steinau Lester has published five books (fiction and non-fiction), several hundred op-eds, and numerous literary essays. Her Young Adult novel Black, White, Other has just been reissued by HarperCollins/Blink, and she has a contract for another novel: Langston Hughes and the One True Me.