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.