That Is the Question.

By Amy K. Nichols

This week our subject is kick starting your writing. I planned to write about my favorite writing prompt and talk about how I get my stories off the ground. But I just read a chapter from Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod — chapter 13, “If you accept the pain, it can’t hurt you” — and it kind of hit me like a two-by-four.

Here’s the gist:

Any creative endeavor is going to require you making necessary sacrifices. Making sacrifices is painful. If you succeed in your creative endeavor, the sacrifices were worth it. If you don’t succeed, you’ve still gained valuable experience from trying.

But not trying? Not trying brings a pain worse than failure.

MacLeod suggests it’s best to undertake any creative endeavor with the idea you won’t receive any recognition for your work, and that it won’t be worth the time or effort or sacrifice. If you take on a project with this mindset, you strip away any frivolous or secondary motivations (e.g., money, fame, movie options, awards), and you’re left face-to-face with a simple question.

“Do you make this damn thing exist or not?”

When I read that question, I set the book down and took a mini existential trip. I analyzed my motives. Why am I a writer? Why do I sacrifice time with my family and friends to write? What if my work amounts to nothing? Do I still sit my butt in the chair? Do I still stare at that blinking cursor and wait for my characters to whisper in my ear?

Is holding a completed manuscript in my hands worth the effort, even if I’m the only person who ever reads it or even know it exists?

MacLeod then says, “Once  you can answer that honestly for yourself, the rest is easy.”

He’s right. After I thought about my answer, I felt liberated. All that other stuff fell by the wayside and it was just me and my story. It was simple. And I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

I guess that’s one way to kickstart your writing. (Or, I guess depending on your answer, kill it completely.)

What do you think of MacLeod’s idea? How do you answer his question?