The truth about being a writing teacher is that everything you teach to others is often a lesson that you have to keep learning for yourself, over and over.
So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that it truly is a challenge for me to sit my fanny down and write.
And which is why I find myself so hungry as I begin this blog post. Not just hungry for good words, but hungry for sweet things, salty things, things with caffeine. I’m also suddenly very interested in the laundry, determined to make my bed, sweep the back deck, tidy up the branches felled by the windstorm last week. I’m certain it’s the perfect time to make the matzo ball soup I promised Zoe for dinner tonight. And while I’m at it, I better get a move on those Christmas gifts even though the great godly holiday is over a week away!
In fact, I would be happy to do practically anything other than sit down to write.
In my 20’s, when I was just starting out as a journalist for the East Bay Express in Berkeley, I found that if I had a glass of wine, no, two glasses of wine, writing came easy. Not only that, I was funny! Inspired! Smart! The words flew through me and out onto the page like magic. Then, as I got more assignments, I realized that I couldn’t catch a buzz every time I sat down to write, not if I wanted to make a life of this.
So I had to learn to write sober and to meet myself in that naked place where there’s nothing and then there’s something. It’s not magic either. It’s not like snapping your fingers or opening a spigot. It’s more like a slow shuffle, one word and then the next. Sometimes it feels like I’m fishing for words in a sticky puddle of honey. Sometimes I think, “if this is so tough, maybe I’m not very good at it, maybe I ought to bag it and do something else.” If I’m lucky the phone rings around then and I forget my terrible plan to quit because I don’t have much of a back up plan.
Nothing has changed in these 25 years, only that I’ve gotten more used to fishing in honey and sitting here staring at the sticky surface waiting for something to bob. That’s not to say I don’t get up – I did make that matzo ball soup – but I don’t make up a big story about how I’m not a writer and how I should chuck the whole thing.
What I do know after all of these years is that I’m in that fallow part of the creative process where words and ideas aren’t flowing. Maybe the best I can do is jot some notes or even start with these lines, “What I really want to say…” and keep adding to that line until something honest comes out of me. I might try three different blog posts to see which one has some wiggly fish inside – something I might catch and reel in. In the meantime I listen to music, I get up, I work out, I make lists, sometimes I make my bed, I check facebook, I search for poetry, I go on a walk. And then I come back. Maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve learned – to come back.
Oh Laurie. You validated my feelings. Thank you, once again, for your honesty and for saying the right words. I’m in one of those places, fishing in that honey, staring out the window, wondering if I am a complete fake who should try anything but writing. My hope for the new year is that I will stop seeking perfection, quit looking for the angle and not be as hard on myself. I know a huge lot of people who don’t even try to write so I am going to give myself more credit and pay more attention to less. And I’m going to keep coming back, if only to visit myself once in a while.
Nice Lynn – yes! You might try some self imposed deadlines. Even writing a blog for a newsletter gets me past my perfection because I need to get it out – I need to have it be good enough to send and move on. Great energy in moving on. Maybe “good enough” is the mantra for the new year. Good enough and moving on!
Thanks for this post in my inbox this morning — it resonates! I go forth with my day with your last sentences echoing in my mind: “And then I come back. Maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve learned – to come back.” That’s what’s essential: to keep at it through the gnawing self-doubt, avoidance, trial and error, dry spells (many!), and despair. And, yes, the occasional triumphs, when they finally come.
All best to you and yours at the holidays and in the new year.
Mari – so nice to hear from you – – like a friendly life line! We are connected – so glad! xxx
I love this description of writing, “to meet myself in that naked place where there’s nothing and then there’s something.” It’s so funny how maniacally we can dance around ourselves, how much energy we can put into avoiding it, like a toddler struggling against bedtime, and then when we relax, find the rhythm, it’s like a lullaby and we sleep like babies. xo
So well said Jill – like a toddler who fights against bedtime and then collapses. Thank you for being a reader and a fellow practitioner. We sorely need each other because we’re all in the same boat. xxx
May daughter, Maggie, just sent me the link to your post. I will be printing this out and linking to it on my blog. You are speaking my language! Thanks for the laughs and the mirror and the truth. I am your newest subscriber.
Rosi! So happy to meet you. Send me your blog and I can appreciate you. Thank you!
Thanks for this post Laurie. I will remember it when I get back home from this trip and continue to work on the projects I started at the writing workshop. It is comforting and inspiring to know that I am not the only one who finds myself getting distracted with the most mundane of chores when I put my rear in my chair. So great to meet you and I look forward to more of your posts and programs. Aloha!
You are a lake of honey.