For years, I thought I could only write if I had the perfect circumstances. My favorite mood-setting music, my special writing spot in an inspirational setting and at least three hours of uninterrupted time. I rejected so many perfectly good moments when I could have been writing because I thought those ideal conditions were what I absolutely needed to write. It took me a long time to realize they were all just Dumbo feathers.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams available now in paperback and eBook.
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In the 1941 animated Disney movie, Dumbo the elephant is afraid to try to fly using his massive ears. The mouse, Timothy, promises him he’ll be fine as long as he holds this magic feather. Dumbo clutches the feather with all his might, convinced it’s the source of all his power and, hey, he can fly! But when Dumbo loses the feather at a critical moment, Timothy fesses up that the feather was a gimmick, an ordinary crow feather. The real power to fly was inside Dumbo all along. The token he depended on gone, Dumbo has to figure out how to trust himself to fly on his own.
This is one of the best metaphors there is for the creative life because so many of us convince ourselves that we need x or y to make the magic when the power was in us all along. I’m all in favor of silly gimmicks like writing hats or idyllic surroundings when you get stuck or to motivate on the hard writing days, but they can become a prop. There’s a big difference between knowing it’s easier to write under certain conditions and becoming so dependent on them you fear you cannot write without them.
Like Dumbo, never forget that the power has been in you all along. You need nothing but you, your beautiful mind, and the words. That’s it.