Writers: Take a Tip from Gandhi

If You Want to be a Writer: Action Expresses Priorities

Writer Tip ActionA few months ago a greetings card in a store caught my attention: An Asian statue of a dancer in a wheel against a sunset sky. Then I read the quote beneath the photo, “Action Expresses Priorities.” The quote rang home even more loudly than the image – bright and clear like a wake-up bell.

I bought the card to send to my friend Fiona in London. But that bell kept ringing in my head until I realized that, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to send Fiona the card. It called to me so loudly I needed to keep it for myself. The quote has become my mantra for this year.

Every year I take a quote or saying as a guiding mantra. Sometimes I keep it close to my chest, even my husband doesn’t know what it is. But I’ve been sharing “Action expresses priorities” left and right.

I started mentioning it in my coaching calls and online seminars with writers because so often the message spoke to the issues the writers brought to me. Every time I shared it there was an intake of breath, an “Mmm” of recognition, the same recognition that I felt when I read it. Hey, the saying is attributed to Gandhi, so perhaps it’s no surprise.

What does “action expresses priorities” mean to a writer?

For me, it reminds me that if I am not actively doing my creative work, taking action towards my dreams, my ambitions, my most cherished projects, then they cannot be much of a priority for me. This leaves me with a bit of an ‘ouch’ feeling because of course they are a priority in my heart. They are just not getting prioritized in my day.

Also, when I’m dollying around wasting time on some ridiculous task I’ve set myself (spending an hour online to save $20 on a flight) or disappearing down the rabbit hole of Facebook, what does this say about my priorities? Usually, it means that I have (literally) lost the plot, because there is no way I’m writing a short story while I’m watching videos of dancing ferrets.

If you want to prioritize your writing this year, this saying is one to take to heart. Use it as a tool, as a benchmark to choose what you will or will not do, as a sweet prayer of encouragement.

5 Ways to Take Action and Prioritize Writing

1) Make time to write. It’s very simple. If you don’t make time in your life to write then your brilliant novel is not going to write itself while you are watching TV / researching Twitter hashtags / partying with the dancing ferrets.  Even 10 minutes of writing a day makes a difference – it shows that even in your busiest days, you are showing up for yourself, for your priority of being a writer.

2) Find a community of writers. Writers in our online Write to the Finish course always say that the sense of community is a vital part of the course for them.  For 9 months they have the support of other writers on the same path, all striving to write a book. (Often writers stay in touch for years after their Write to the Finish course ended, even traveling across continents to meet and write together. When writers bond, they bond hard!)  I have my own writing communities – almost all consistent/successful writers do. Whether online or in the real world, it’s important to spend time with other writers who understand you and who will have your back when the going get tough.

3) Speaking of which, don’t give up when the going gets tough. Express your priority to keep writing by just doing it: hang on in there, stay committed. I promise you that the tough time will pass.

4) Create a scaffolding. Study books in your genre, take writing courses, read books on how to write, attend workshops and conferences, do things to support your priority of being a writer. (But watch out! If you only read books about how to write and don’t actually write, your action simply says that your priority is to read writing books!)

5) Learn to say No. Don’t spend time doing things that don’t express your priority of writing. Sometimes that will mean saying a kind “no” more often – to others or to yourself. Start practicing.

By the way, even though I kept the inspiring card for myself I didn’t deprive my friend Fiona of the “action expresses priorities” quote. I ‘fessed up and told her on a Skype call and showed her the card — the gorgeous statue of Shiva danced its way across the Atlantic ocean via my Skype camera.  (Because another of my priorities is to share truth and beauty where I find it, even if I am too clingy to send the actual card!) Then Fiona and I had a vigorous conversation about what “action expresses priorities” means for each of us.

The message feels huge both for my personal life and for my writing life. What does it mean to you?
If you want to tell us, I’d love to hear in the comments box below. If not, then just breathe it in for yourself, keep it warm against your heart.

Tania Casselle is a writer for magazines, book publishers, and online media. She also coaches writers and leads online writing seminars  including the successful Write to the Finish online course by phone and email for writers working on a book. She leads in-person writing workshops and retreats in beautiful places, usually teaching with her husband, the Hemingway award-winning author Sean Murphy. See more WriterMuscle posts or sign up to receive future Writer Muscle updates – down-to-earth advice from a seasoned writer.

Send Me WriterMuscle

Email & Social Media Marketing by VerticalResponse

Writers: Don’t Hold Back!

Five Reasons Why Writers Shouldn’t Hold Back

Writers don't hold backI read, critique, and edit dozens of manuscripts a year for private clients and for agencies, conferences and writer organizations. I often tell writers not to hold back in their work… not to let fears of self-exposure or concerns about how others might react get in their way. Just let your creativity and emotion flow freely onto the page.

It’s common for memoir or creative nonfiction writers to want to protect themselves (“What will people think of me?”) or their loved ones (“I can’t say that about my sister!”) or even avoid mentioning people they have fallen out with (“They’ll sue me!”).

But the reader knows you’re withholding something – and I promise, they won’t like it. Here’s why writers shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to hold back:

1) Readers can tell anyway if you are avoiding something. There is a gap and we feel it. It makes us uneasy and distrustful of the writer. You don’t want that, do you?

2) You can edit later. So let it all out now! Write authentically and passionately and trust that others will be able to meet you there. Part of the process of writing is to speak your truth. Don’t throttle yourself. You can figure out later if you need to change it to protect people’s feelings or adjust anything for legal reasons. Most often, when we encourage writers to spill it all without self-censor, they later say that the truth they write is not as bad or scary as they anticipated… and they leave it in.

3) Emotion isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Telling the truth without holding back might bring up emotions, but that’s OK. That’s what we want! The memoirist Anaïs Nin put it this way: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Sometimes the taste isn’t so palatable, but if you’re drawn to write about something that happened to you, trust the instinct. Allow it to come up and cry all the way through if necessary. Let yourself be angry if that is what arises – slash the page with the anger. Let yourself be sad and grieve. The page is intimate. The page is your friend.

Remember you don’t have to show it to anyone (see point 2 above) but if you repress your emotions and write only the pretty, sanitized version of your experience, then not only were you hurt once, but you are hurting yourself again. Own your truth, own your voice.

4) If it feels scary, go for it – that’s where the energy is. Fiction writers can also feel vulnerable about exposing themselves, even when hiding behind their narrator or characters. My advice is: If it feels scary, go for it. Sometimes we hold back because even in fiction we’re still trying to be “nice” or perhaps politically correct. Or we might think, “I’m not the kind of writer who writes that kind of stuff.” But fiction is about life as it is and sometimes life isn’t nice or politically correct… look at Shakespeare! Better to overreach in a draft, then rein it back in revisions, than hold ourselves back in the first draft. It’s much more difficult to fix a ‘held back’ passage later. Usually it has to be rewritten from the ground up.

5) Trust in yourself. Sometimes we can get stingy about our words or ideas, feeling that we’ve got to hold something back, keep something in the bank as it were, as though if we spill the words too freely we might run out of them. We might run dry and find ourselves in the red for ideas. This will not happen, I assure you. There are unlimited creative ideas and many lively words deposited in that bank! And in this magical account, as soon as you spend them they are automatically replenished.

As author Annie Dillard says: “Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time… Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water… Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

I’d love to hear what helps you let go and write your truth freely. Tell us in the comments box below.

Tania Casselle is a writer for magazines, book publishers and online media. She also coaches writers and leads online writing seminars and in-person writing workshops. See more WriterMuscle posts.