“Crazy for Life” Rules for Writing

“Crazy for Life” Rules for Writing

When I wrote my first play “Crazy for Life,” I had no idea what I was doing. Seriously. I had acted before but never written a one-person show, particularly one about my own experience living with mental illness. But that was OK. It was OK because I wrote from my truth and from my passion. And when writing has that kind of energy, people are interested.

In her book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland says: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say”. She goes on to explain: “Everybody is original, if she tells the truth, if she speaks from herself. But it must be from her true self and not from the self she thinks she should be.”

Maybe you want to write to heal your wounds, to tell your story or an imagined tale. But write for the sheer pleasure of it — not only or necessarily to purge your demons. Trust me that will happen anyway. Perhaps you have no interest in writing at all — well, of course that’s okay too.

Over the years of writing, first for “my eyes only” in the form of journaling, and then for the public in the form of plays, articles and blog posts, I’ve realized I follow (somewhat haphazardly) a set of rules when it comes to putting pen to paper or, as the case may have it, fingers to keys. Some of these rules for writing are good rules for life too. Take what you like and crumple up the rest (that’s actually a good rule to follow too):

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The “Crazy for Life” Rules for Writing (and Sometimes Life)

1. Breathe. Breathe. Oh and Breathe. When I write, I make a point to consciously relax and breathe. Once my muscles relax, my mind follows and the more easily ideas and creativity flow.

2. Keep writing. Don’t stop. Pausing for extended amounts of time can be your inner critic’s sneaky way to gain control. Do like Nike. Just do it. I give myself a short specific amount of time to have my bum in the seat. Sometimes 60 minutes, sometimes 25 and sometimes 10. Whatever helps me stay with the page.

3. If you don’t know something or get stuck…don’t worry. Don’t get hung up. Just make a note of it; flag it by highlighting or bolding it and go back to it later. If you stop to figure it out for too long — your critic will start an argument of why you aren’t a good writer, “because, you know, any writer worth their salt wouldn’t get stuck like you”. The inner critic’s job is to help you stay safe. And writing is vulnerable, so vulnerable it can feel threatening. The critic will do its damnedest to have you steer clear of potential bombs. So write on.

4. Give yourself credit. Whether you wrote for five minutes or 15, congratulate yourself. It may seem small, but the toughest barriers are often the ones we can’t see. I live by my mantra: Small is big. Slow is smart.

5. Write from your fire. Write about what makes you mad, happy, scared, jealous, sad…you get the idea. And if you only feel flatness (like when in the turmoil of depression) write about that. But have it come from the fire of flatness.

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6. Be specific. If Uncle Joe drove a car…was it a red Buick or a silver Miata? Did your main character eat Bavarian smokies with broad beans for dinner or their mom’s chili con carne?

7. If writing feels bad — stop. If you find yourself overwhelmed with negative feelings or vibrating with anxiety — stop. Take care of yourself. Writing is not meant to be a punishment. Yes, it can be hard — but when starting out, let it be easy and gentle and kind. You want to want to go back to it.

8. Give yourself permission to fail and succeed. Both are important for good writing. As in life.

Before you pick up your tablet or grab your pen, read this. My message to you:

When you start to write, throw open the doors, offer yourself to the page and let your hand, your pen and the paper take you. You are larger than you could ever imagine. Your stories are important. Your voice is needed. Who you are is already enough. Your writing doesn’t have to be grand or lavish, just something that is important to you. That is originality.


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