William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper tycoon who inspired the film classic Citizen Kane, once told a budding reporter on his staff, “If you can think, you can write!” On the surface, this might sound like an oversimplification, but in essence, nothing could be truer. As writers, our creative process is simply articulating our thoughts into words on a page. Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, and so on, until we have a finished blog, article, copy block, or manuscript.
When I first heard this quote several years ago, it immediately registered with me as one of those wise adages that is both profoundly accurate and easily understandable at the same time. For what is a writer, if not “in his own head”? I know when I’m “in the zone,” the writing process becomes a cerebral stream of consciousness that takes me along for the ride! One might ask, how does an author structure a novel, how does a scenarist weave a short story, how does an expert publicist bang out a press release, or what does a copywriter do in the high-stakes environs of an ad agency: All of it is driven by thoughts in the writer’s head.
Of course, a good writer is more than simply what’s spinning around in his noggin. Turning thoughts into words on a page? Yes. But the skill is in how we do it. That’s where honing and mastering your craft comes in. As in any art form, success is a merging of instinctive talent and developed skill, and the blending of talent and skill into quality result and creative and marketable production is a singular journey that each of us take as individual writers.
But the exciting thing is that the source material is always there! The goblet always full. “If you can think, you can write.” Imagination doesn’t come from a manual. It isn’t ordered online with a credit card. Our imagination, our thoughts, are the lifeblood of what we do as writers. With all due respect to Mr. Hearst, an even more precise way to put it is this: “If you are unable to think, you surely won’t be able to write!” And since I’m pretty darn sure that all of you can string a couple of thoughts together, you’re halfway home.
So, the next time you’re struggling with writer’s block, or under the gun and stressing out over a tight deadline, remember the wise words that an iconic newspaperman shared with a fledgling journalist. For all we know, that journalist might have won the Pulitzer Prize!
Michael V is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.