Like anything you can get better at, writing is a practice. You sit at your desk or your couch or your coffee shop as often as you can and practice telling stories, finding characters, and translating life as you’ve experienced it into words. It can be a lifelong practice if you want it to be. There are an infinite number of stories to tell and characters to meet, and our very best efforts on the page are like a single reflection of a single moment of single day.

There is also a secondary practice to writing that has nothing to do with stories, characters, or words. In my stories I am always trying to translate the felt experience of life, rendering the grief, joy, curiosity, or boredom that color my days. To capture these feelings, I must experience them again at my desk, summon and observe them as a painter arranges and observers a vase of flowers. It is a uniquely creative relationship to one’s feelings because, unlike when I’m not writing, I am aware they are not happening to me. Instead they are simply the subject my artistic eye, an eye that requires a necessary distance to render anything accurately.

This practice need not be limited to the desk. After all, I never stop feeling, nor would I want to. I am not a piece of wood. But I don’t like when it seems as though I am a tiny, rudderless ship, a victim to the moods of some capricious ocean – flung through a storm one moment, stranded idle in a flat and windless sea the next.

I’ve learned that the difference between the artist and the victim is a single word: Because. It is the least creative word in my vocabulary. I am happy because I got an acceptance letter, or I am miserable because I got a rejection letter. I’m in a good mood this morning because I finished a chapter, or I am in a bad mood this morning because my story’s an incomprehensible mess. “Because” renders me powerless. I’ve wanted many things in my life, but everything I’ve wanted I’ve only wanted for how I believe having it will leave me feeling. I want to feel good every moment of every day. I often don’t, but I still want to. Not a moment passes where I would not prefer to feel better. “Because” makes how I feel conditional, and conditions change and change and change, whereas my desire to feel good does not.

So I practice living without because. It’s not easy, I admit. Most days I feel like I’m back in that tiny boat, praying for good waves and wind and weather. But the moment I remove that one insidious word it is like shifting from being a character in a story to its author. I have found the distance necessary not just to render but to make choices, the way an artist chooses his subject, the way a captain chooses his course.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.