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Write like your life depends on it

I had a headache. I didn’t want to go out for our daily driving lesson. I was 16 and I wanted my license, badly. I just didn’t feel like it that day.

But my dad was firm. It was driving lesson time. It didn’t matter if I had a headache. He said I would need to know how to drive during times of stress, headache, sorrow, angst, joy and trepidation. This ‒ driving with a headache ‒ would be good practice.

I didn’t listen well. I didn’t get my license.

Years later, when I was grown up and a mother of four, I tried again. On the day of my road test, in the early hours of the morning, a phone call awakened me to the news a dear friend had been killed in a car accident. I was shattered. But my dad’s advice came back to me. Exhausted and heartbroken, I took the test anyway. Somehow I passed.

At around age 13, when I decided for sure I would be a writer, my dad, who was a writer himself, had some advice then, too.

One day I told him I “wasn’t in the mood” to write. I might have been referring to my childish, handwritten novel. Or possibly my trite, cringe-worthy poetry. But my dad took me seriously.

“If you’re going to write,” he said, “you have to be able to write anywhere, any time, under any circumstance. You have to write when you’re tired, sick, busy, angry, or”, he added, to echo my words, “if you just don’t feel like it.”

He knew. A newspaper man, he wrote during war. He wrote when he was cold, wet, hungry, afraid, surrounded by guns and torpedoes.

Later, when I was a fledgling journalist, I had tough editors who were more blunt. “Give me 600 words,” they’d say at 3 pm, “by 4. And make it sing.”

Unlike my dad, they weren’t interested in how I felt, what was going on in my world, whether I really wanted to have a nap or go and have coffee with friends. A deadline was a deadline.

Now I can drive with screaming kids, slobbering pets, a toothache, money worries, a teenager’s music. I can write on a train, at an airport, in a grocery store, in the middle of a child’s birthday party. I have written during heartbreak, fear, depression, rage. Not that I always like it. But I can do it. It was the best advice my dad and those tough editors could have given me.

Sometimes you have to write like your life depends on it, because sometimes it does. Like there’s no one to help you. Like you’re in a marathon. Like the world is spinning but you're there straight and strong.

Sometimes you just have to write it. No matter what.

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