Training Wheels

Someone recently asked me about my writing process. “Do you have any specific routines? Techniques? How do you get your ideas down on paper?” The answer is underwhelming: I don’t. I just sit down and type.

Sometimes, I’ll pause typing to think, look up a word, or research, and yes, sometimes, I get lost in internet rabbit holes, like everyone else. All in all, however, I don’t need a lot of structure to write, and that’s because I’ve written almost every day for eight years.

The longer you do it, the less structure you’ll need. Structure is like training wheels: Once you know what you’re doing, it’s okay if they come off. I can’t write without pen and paper, a laptop, or a phone any more than one can cycle without a bike — but I can very well write without a certain kind of pen, coffee, or my favorite stuffed animal.

It’s not that structure is no longer helpful, just no longer necessary. I write every morning, and if I sit long enough, words always appear. It’s handy to be able to do that sitting at an airport, a noisy café, or in any other kind of less-than-ideal setting, but it doesn’t mean I don’t prefer to sit at home or at WeWork in my usual spot.

Some people will look at those without training wheels and say they’re just lucky, or that they’re lying and simply won’t reveal their secrets. The truth is that climbing without ropes is a hard-earned privilege, and most people aren’t willing to practice long enough to attain it.

Life doesn’t get any easier when you no longer need a guidebook every time you pick up the guitar. It’s just a different kind of struggle, but a struggle nonetheless. There’ll be less fretting and less complaining, but no easier rewards. This mentality, however — the mentality of the professional — is worth a lot.

Where are your training wheels? What can you do without them? Which skill is worth the long slog before you’ll need less support? Questions over questions. Answering them, too, is a process — and it, too, is underwhelming. You sit and ponder a little every day, and that’s all there is to it. If you do it long enough, however, perhaps one day, someone will ask about your training wheels, and all you’ll do is shrug — for you no longer remember when they came off, just that structure is optional, and that’s a good thing.