Writing is tricky – a high dive off of the surface into the miry depths of your mind, swimming around in the muck, scouring for meaning.
Writing is one of those things that tries to masquerade as something illusive, like a puff of smoke or a firefly. One minute it’s there and the next, it’s gone – leaving you grasping at the air, trying to find it again.
Writing is rich with myths – the idea of a muse or an inspiration or that it’s something that requires a quiet space and lots of smelly candles.
It’s like a prima donna pop star, “please bring me a bowl of M&M’s, but I only like the red ones.” It’s something that makes us work, makes us sweat – promising us success and quick turnarounds if we’ll bend over backwards to it’s ridiculous requests.
Writing is something that sneaks up on me in the most inconvenient moments. I’m usually at dinner or halfway through a shower when inspiration strikes. My thoughts start to weave themselves into easy, flowing prose – my thoughts making sense for the first time in awhile.
I’ll jump out of the shower as quickly as possible, sprinting to my laptop to try to capture the words before they evaporate. Sometimes I make it in time, but sometimes arrive just a little too late – wet and irritated as my idea sputters out halfway through.
And then there are the moments (and days like today) when the pile of articles to write starts to feel like an insurmountable mountain. It starts to weigh heavily on me like the worst kind of to-do list, and the pressure zaps any creativity that might have been brewing before I plopped into my chair.
But even though writing sometimes feels like a firefly in it’s quick, disappearing beauty, or a prima donna with it’s extravagant requirements for a performance, I think that writing and the whacked out inner selves that make it happen just need some discipline.
If you’ve ever been a student in middle school (or college), chances are that you’ve faked sick a time or two. There are some days when going to school just sounds like a drag and when doing anything else (even lying in bed pretending to be sick) sounds preferable.
When I was young I tried all of the tricks. But my sweet, sympathetic mother actually didn’t require much of a performance. She took most of our excuses with sympathy and grace – allowing us sick days and the space we needed to get better.
The problem was that we abused her kindness – or at least I did.
I look at my unruly, inner, writing self in the same way. She’s strategic in the ways she tries to evade me. She wiggles around, faking sick, and crying on cue – pleading for my sympathy and just a few more days before she actually has to show up and get things done.
But since it takes one to know one, I’ve caught onto her tricks. I see her whining and her crying and her pleading, and know that I’m not doing her (or myself) any favors by indulging her procrastinating requests.
The truth is that writing is as simple as expressing something with words. We’re never actually without words, at a loss for words, or tongue-tied. Words are always there and if we push ourselves a little, we can usually choke out a few.
But there is a small amount of sympathy that I have for my small, writing self. The words she squeezes onto the page don’t have to be good.
Anne Lamott talks about “shitty first drafts” in her book Bird by Bird – showing us the beauty and inevitability of writing total garbage the first time around.
We don’t have to start well; we don’t even have to make sense. But we do have to start.
And so this is the technique that I’m employing these days – wrangling my wiggly writing self into her chair and making her squeeze out a few words.
And what I’m finding is that words don’t disappear like a firefly or a cloud of smoke, but that writers block does. It fades and disappears – a bit embarrassed to have been found out. And there we are, my writing self and I, our thoughts flowing onto the page with ease, paddling around happily in the depths by candlelight.
What keeps you from writing?
Originally written as a guest post for Anne the Adventurer. (If you haven’t checked out her blog, I highly recommend it. It’s one of my favorites!!)