Yes, You Can Write Without This



You’ve read countless author bios that include some variation of this:

I’ve been making up stories in my head since before I could read. My parents said I lived in a dream world. Characters come to life in my head and speak to me, I see whole worlds before I even start to write.

This isn’t me, and it got me doubting. Again. Can I write fiction if my mind doesn’t work like this?

Writers often obsess over the processes of other writers. When do you write? Where do you write? Do you use a laptop, pen and journal, retro typewriter? It’s as if we think adopting the traits of those that came before will improve our own odds of success. How do you do it?

If we don’t do it the way Author X does, we must be doing it wrong. If it doesn’t come easily, we’re not talented. My comfort zone with writing is non-fiction: essays, news features, memoir, commentary, humor, etc.. Writing in these forms is reflexive for me.

I’ve always written stories as well, just not naturally or easily, or sometimes competently, as it turns out. Enrolling in my first fiction workshop stretched my writing muscles, occasionally resulting in a cramp.

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I wanted to share my journey as a newly committed writer. I wasn’t new to writing, I was just new to allowing it to take up space in my life. I reviewed over 100 of my previous posts and found a lot of them were thinly veiled attempts to quiet the voice of self-doubt.

Today I came across a blog post by a lovely writer waxing on about her imaginary worlds peopled with fascinating characters that talked to her and interacted as if alive. She couldn’t remember a time when her imagination was without a menagerie.

My heart sank. This isn’t how things worked for me.

I almost accepted it as another sign from the universe that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on fiction. Despite a novel in revision and numerous short pieces, my dream of telling absorbing, made-up stories felt threatened.

Then I remembered the freewriting exercise I did before bed last night. I didn’t have made up worlds and people living in my imagination for days prior. But, as my black Flair felt-tip flew across the pages of my notebook, a movie unfolded in my head.

Full Moon

Full Moon Silhouette. © bilbord99,

Flickr Creative Commons









I saw Donald, a naughty little boy, as he tip-toed out of his house, without permission, to gaze at the glowing cheese moon up close. I smelled the cigarette smoke from Donald’s next door neighbor, ancient, senile James, and heard the creaking of the old man’s webbed lawn chair as he rocked back and forth. And I felt my chest tighten when a cold, rough hand closed around Donald’s ankle and pulled him off the wood pile. I swallowed a lump as another hand closed over the little boy’s mouth.

Donald and James arrived in my notebook, without making any previous appearances in my head. They’re not moving around there now, and if they’re talking, it’s not to me. I think they’re just waiting in Donald’s back yard where I left them.

I may return to them. I may not. I’m asking the what-if questions. My objective is to bring them to life in the mind of the reader.

Podcasts, blog posts, and social media links promise a magic tip or trick that will confirm we’re doing this writing thing right. Or, more in line with our anxiety, that we’re doing it all wrong. We’ll switch tactics and that will be the missing link in our quest to get published, score 5-star reviews, or sell our screenplay.

Maybe this is just another form of self-doubt, our inner gremlins trying to keep us safe in the land of the easy: Don’t try fiction, it’s too hard. You can’t make up stories if you don’t do it this way.

All the good stuff exists beyond the boundaries of the familiar, the comfortable. Does it matter that I don’t have entire worlds in my head? For now, I’ve decided it doesn’t. Fiction is challenging, it’s exciting, and I don’t want to stop yet. I’m learning to tell stories my way.

This is how it’s working for me. One writer’s process. My plan is to keep learning, keep seeking, keep writing.

You’ll find no magic tip here, just gentle encouragement. Your way is the right way for you, too.






4 Thoughts on “Yes, You Can Write Without This

  1. Oh, this SO resonates with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing a post that validates ANY method we have as writers for getting words on the page. Sometimes my characters are there in my head, and I can watch them in motion. Other times, I need an inspiring snippet to read in my research to get them started. Sometimes, they disappear for days and weeks at a time, while other parts of my life take up so much room I can’t allow them to be part of it. Yes, I’ve made stuff up all my life, but not full stories. Adaptations of other author’s work. Mostly, I’ve imagined writing. Over the past year, though, I’ve let writing become a fuller part of my life, internally and educationally. I’m slowly going through the process of “becoming” a writer. It’s both the hardest and must gratifying process I’ve ever engaged in, besides parenting.

    • Your comment resonates with me, Wendy! At a time in my life when many contemporaries are enjoying down time from parenting, just relaxing, I find myself gearing up and taking on this huge writing challenge. It takes hours and hours every week. You put it well “the hardest and most gratifying process besides parenting.” I think that’s how we know it’s ok to keep doing it! Write on, sister, write on! And many thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Thank you for the encouragement, Suzanne! Your words are so reassuring. There is no right or wrong process when it comes to writing. …I know this is true, but those darn doubts can be so persistent. I’m glad you decided to share your journey!

What is Your Greatest Fear?

Conquer your fears

Thor and Ruger - Fear of Dogs

Last Sunday night, we were attacked by a loose pit bull. My husband saved us with his work boots and extra long legs. We had finished eating takeout with our daughter and her fiance and decided to walk off the Portillo’s Hot Dog feast instead of lolling on the sofa in a greasy stupor. Our neighborhood park was a couple of blocks away and my daughter’s two rescue dogs–a boxer mix and a spaniel-mix–needed the exercise.

The chaotic scene was a blur as I walked a few paces ahead of our group. All I remember is clinging to the back of my daughter who is four inches taller than me and then holding her smaller dog in my arms as I circled, keeping my back to the pit bull. I doubt I came off as heroic.

Fortunately, there were no injuries. The pit bull got it’s mouth on the boxer three different times but each time, my husband came to the rescue, keeping the dog at bay with his feet. The police were called, the owner showed up to claim the dog and received a couple of tickets, and vet checks ensued.

When it was all over, I had a headache and the desire to cry for two days. At the age of seven, I was bitten by a German Shepherd and stray dogs are my number one phobia. Before spiders or my husband’s irrational fear of sharks (we live in the Midwest for crying out loud), I am deathly afraid of stray dogs.

Conquer your fears

This past year has been a time for me to do those things that make me afraid…call myself a writer, submit things I’ve written risking rejection, perform at a Live Lit Storytelling night. I’ve faced these fears but still balk at walking outside alone. I do it. But I have to force myself.

After the dog attack, I’m more hesitant than ever. This reminds me of a class I took about 15 years ago. I don’t remember the exercise but I remember having to name my greatest fear. It wasn’t dogs, spiders or sharks–it was the fear of living a life filled with regret. I could feel it happening. I was meant to be doing something else but I couldn’t see what it was so sometimes I didn’t even look.

“This takes a lot of self-belief…to just follow an idea and believe something will come of it.” ~ Insa

Writing may not be my ultimate calling. I think it is. It feels like it is. Facing the scary stuff is opening me up. Each time I push through the membrane of my safe existence, I catch a glimpse of possibility. Fear, worry, regret…they’re my stray dogs. How do you face yours?


2 Thoughts on “What is Your Greatest Fear?

  1. Great post Suzanne. What an awful experience! Hope you’ve recovered by now.

    I also have a fear of large/yappy dogs. Especially when they are running wild! WHY do people Do that?? Grrrrr!! I think I have too many fears to list. I face them by keeping my eyes tightly closed, and going “La la la la la la la” and pretending it’s not really happening. Not the best way I know! 😉

    I am convinced that writing IS your calling, Suzanne! You are so good at it. Keep facing those stray dogs! You can hide behind me if you like. “Woof!” *Happy waggy tail* 😀 <3

    • Thanks, Angela! Your method just may work. I appreciate the support and am a fan of you as well 🙂 As always, having readers (and supporters) is the best reward–that is, after doing what we feel we are called to do. And keep the dogs on a leash, people! Sheesh!