For the last couple of weeks I’ve been gearing up for Four Uninterrupted Days of Writing, the four-day workshop I’m running here at 27 Powers with the inimitable Jen Louden. 17 brave souls showed up here this morning and mostly what I’ve been thinking about for these last couple of weeks is how to serve them.
Of course Jen and I have writing lessons and hand-outs. We’ve got tips, tricks and tools, and even a get up and shake your booty sound track so the writers can get out of their heads and move a little blood. We’ll have coffee and snacks and a delicious catered lunch each day, as well as plenty of time for writers to write and read their work. And while all of that is real nice, the thing I’m really wanting to support them in is learning how to create a world inside of themselves, an internal landscape that calmly allows each of them to move through their writing when they’ve forgotten what the hell their stories were about and why they mattered in the first place.
If you’re like me, you’d kill for a Google map that tells you exactly how to get from the beginning of a story right on through to the end. I’d cream for an app that instructed me to begin the story in the scene where my Mother realizes that I have a rat’s nest – an impossible tangle of knots — in the back of my hair, then the app tells me to veer left when she screams, “If you don’t get that rat’s nest cleaned up I’m cutting all your hair off in the morning!” Then go 400 ft., take a slight right when I get to the scene where my Father is on his knees behind me as I stand in front of my bedroom mirror, combing peanut butter and oil through my hair, telling me “we’re almost there, almost done.”
But I don’t have that app and I’m not that organized. I’m the kind of writer who gets inspired by a scene, a moment, then starts writing into it, writing everything I know. Then I stop, look around, write a little more, put the pen down, get up, walk away, come back, forget what the point of the story was, start again, remember the fight my parents had later that night, then start wondering why my Dad cared so much about my hair.
At that point my piece may resemble that rat’s nest in the back of my head until I take the time to get on my knees and start combing through the mess, sorting out what matters from what happened and why I even wanted to write it in the first place.
For me, there’s no way around it. Writing is a mosh pit of ideas and things I’m trying to say until eventually I say it. I understand that it’s going to be a trek, which is why I have learned to stay open, stay loose, and don’t get all nasty, telling myself things like “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing!”
The truth is, not knowing where I am doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I think it was just practice and sticking with it. Deadlines helped – having to turn in a piece of writing – even a draft – to a friend every week kept me putting one word in front of the other until I got to the end of the piece. It took some humility, but I tried to keep it simple; one piece sent to a friend on a Friday.
And even after years of that, writing can still be a jittery jumble for me, but I know I’m going to make it to the end of the piece because I did it before and I can do it again. It’s par for the course and it doesn’t mean I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. What it is going to require is for me to stay open and stay loose.
This may startle you, but while I do hope you get to publish your stories and your books, while I hope you get to share your work with the world, what I care about even more is that you learn to create a calm, hospitable world inside of yourself so that when the forest gets dark and you’re tripping over those low lying branches you’ll also be carrying a quiet light of faith inside of yourself that allows you to keep going.
When you stay calm, you stay open, and when you’re open you get gifted with little trinkets from the writing gods that come in the form of ideas. And that’s ultimately what I want for myself and for the people who work with me – a calm, open walk through what can often be a dark and tangled mess.
Jen and I are running this workshop again May 15-18 in Santa Barbara, CA. If you’re interested in getting on the waiting list contact Amber at [email protected] If you’re hungry for a weekend of words and wisdom sooner than that, join me and Maya Stein here at 27 Powers April 17-19th for Trixie & Lulu’s School of Writin’.