BY NICOLE ZELNIKER
Just write. It’s the first piece of advice any writing professor will give you, the first piece many of them have given me. It’s the advice I’ve read in books on writing by Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. Just sit down every day and write something. Anything. Literally anything.
But I’m a perfectionist. A full-blown, OCD-diagnosed, control freak perfectionist, and I can’t just write anything. I have to write something good. I must have an idea before I can write. So my “just write” sessions often go like this:
Sit down, computer out. Okay. I have my idea and I have my protagonist, anti-hero, main character, whatever. I have a name. But is it a good name? Let’s Google better names. I want her to be fierce. What are names that mean “fierce”? Amber, Valerie … but that’s too obvious. No, no, she should have a generic name, a name with no meaning. But now she’s boring? It’s fine, a better name will come. Maybe for now, she has no name. Isn’t that artsy or something?
While I’m on the internet, I might as well check Facebook. A BuzzFeed quiz? Don’t mind if I do. I have to know what fruit I am, based on my favorite Disney characters. For science, of course. And wasn’t there that post I’ve been meaning to check on Instagram? And my Twitter is blowing up with the latest thing Trump said/did/tweeted.
Focus, Nicole, focus. Maybe you’re not meant to be a writer. You can’t even write a page without rethinking every decision. Fine, computer away, notebook out. Easier to write, easier to – damn, that’s not what I meant to write. To cross it out or rip out the whole page and start new? It’s so early in the process and cross-outs are sloppy. Rip out. Start new. Planned to write for an hour? It’s been two. And the only thing on the page is the protagonist’s maybe-name. Put the notebook away. Let’s read a book instead.
Read a chapter. Because that’s the second thing writing professors and how-to-write books will tell you, right? Just write and just read. Read Poe, read Atwood, re-read Rowling for the millionth time because where the hell is your Hogwarts letter, anyway? We’re still wondering because most of us – writers, I mean – have been reading for as long as we can remember. So if you can’t write, read. Read, and then just write.
Read today, write tomorrow, inspired. Click-clack on the keyboard or frantically scramble sentences in my notebook, cross-outs and all, because the idea is too good to get sidetracked by mess now. I have to write again. It feels good to write again – pouring myself into the characters on the page, creating something bigger than myself, someone who can take on my literary world.
Forgive myself for yesterday or else I’ll never write again. It’s okay to get sidetracked. It’s okay to not have an idea. It’s okay to stop and read a book or watch a show or do yoga or eat a snack. It’s okay to have writers block or to hate what I’ve written or to get too caught up in the details.
Forgive myself for yesterday and start again. And just write until you can’t write anymore. Just write.
About the Author
Nicole Zelniker is an editorial researcher at The Conversation US and a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. A creative writer as well as a journalist, Nicole has had several pieces of poetry published including Cracks in the Sidewalk (Quail Bell Magazine) and Surge (The Greenleaf Review), as well as two short stories, Last Dance (The Hungry Chimera) and Lucky (Fixional). In her free time, Nicole enjoys reading, photography and ranting about the patriarchy. Currently, she is working on her forthcoming book, Mixed, about race and mixed-race families.
See more of her work on her website, nicolezelniker.wordpress.com.