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As most people who write know, writing is often a compulsion. Whether or not a writer has something to say, a story to tell, or a poem to write, a writer often feels like transposing the stream of consciousness in her head onto paper or screen or wall or what have you. To my mind, this is the essence of being a writer. One must write simply because one must.

Unfortunately, in this day of experts and checklists and rules, it seems all too easy to forget this most fundamental drive that lies at the heart of a writer. If we haven’t outlined a story completely, developed our characters, mastered a rhyme scheme, or ticked all the boxes, it’s easy to become discouraged—to dismiss the essential tendency to write as not good enough, not ready, unworthy of being indulged.

However, as far as I’m concerned, this is an entirely wrong way to think about it. In fact, it is through writing that we develop our stories and characters. It is the very act of writing that gets the cognitive processes—that are necessary to create our best writing—going. That’s not to say we won’t write thousands and thousands of words that won’t be discarded before it’s over, but without those words we can’t get to our best ideas, our best words, our best writing.

Putting our thoughts down helps us to clarify them. And in the process, we spark new ideas, see new avenues to explore, and new denouements or resolutions that weren’t possible until we started writing. Like anything, the more you write, the better you become at writing. And most importantly, once you start writing, you often end up someplace completely unexpected—and better—than you ever imagined.

As most authors advise, the important thing is to write every day as if it’s a job. And I’ll just add, do that whether or not you feel you have something to say and whether or not you’re working on the same piece of writing you worked on yesterday.

There are no tricks, no shortcuts to writing your novella or your play or your masterpiece. The only thing to do is start … and keep writing even when it feels futile. Then, one day, you’ll look back over your writing and be pleasantly surprised at how far it’s come.