“Pick Up a Pen, Start Writing”

In the title, I echo a line from Hamilton’s “One Last Time.” George Washington informs Alexander Hamilton that he will not be seeking another term in office as President. The Secretary starts to spew a list of reasons why Washington shouldn’t resign. Washington, rather than replying to the challenges, tells Alexander to have a drink, relax, and start writing an address to the public. The argument that Hamilton raises with Washington reminds me of some of the points my inner voice has tried to make when I write. Hamilton pleads with the President:

“Is this the best time?”
“They will say you’re weak.”
“Why do you have to…?”


Immediately after I start considering a writing project or topic, the doubts start rolling in: Is this the best time to do this? Should you be writing about this now? When people read this, they’ll be disappointed in you. You can’t write about this topic well. Everyone knows it. Why do you need to write about this? Do you even want to write about this? Why do you write anyway?

I have to remind myself that every writer has self-doubt. That doubt is not an indicator that you are no good. It doesn’t mean that you are incapable of writing. Self-doubt is like a schoolyard bully who only needs his victim to display a little assertiveness to get him to back down. The doubt is going to be there just like that bully is going to be in the playground. But you don’t need to cower. Plan to write anyway. Make a schedule and stick to it. Put your writing appointments on a calendar. Don’t let doubt keep you from even trying.

I’m not going to make a promise that all the doubts will magically float away at that point. The doubts might even get stronger. You have to keep writing anyway. It’s okay if you spend the whole session writing horribly. You’ll learn from it. If you’re able to identify what you’ve written as garbage, you can consciously dispose of it. Then you can get back to work and do better.


Even if you’ve overcome the doubt, there’s going to be other noise that will try to keep you from writing. In “One Last Time” Hamilton used the feelings of America’s citizens and the conflict between Britain and France as reasons the country needed Washington’s leadership. He implores the President, “As far as the people are concerned, you have to serve, you could continue to serve!” Washington replies with a firm “No!”

We don’t know if, historically, Washington and Hamilton had a conversation similar to the discussion in “One Last Time.” But we do know that the address considered the themes mentioned in the song:

“I want to talk about neutrality.”
“I want to warn against partisan fighting.”
“I want to talk about what I have learned, the hard-won wisdom I have earned.”

Keep your focus in the following three areas: First, focus on actually making the time to write. Don’t let other distractions crowd it out. Second, focus on the story you want to tell. You started this project because you came up with a good story. Revisions and new ideas can be applied, but don’t get carried away and sabotage your work. And third, focus on the writing, not the aftermath. Don’t be overly concerned about whether or not what you’ve written is good enough for others. Was it good enough for you? If you’re putting your heart and soul into a story’s pages or providing valuable content, you can’t allow yourself to worry about potential sales or bad reviews. Washington couldn’t concern himself with the people’s craving for his leadership. He had his own story. You do too. But you will need the same laser focus he had to tell it.

I also wanted to include thoughts on deciding what to write about, but that doesn’t seem to fit unless I rework a lot of what I’ve written. So I’m going to write about that tomorrow.

You can read George Washington’s farewell address at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp

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