The writing is not happening. Even though I try not to get caught up in the New Year’s resolution “live your best life” hoopla, every January I still secretly think maybe this is the year I will finally get my shit together. But here’s the thing about shit: it likes to spread itself around and stink up everything. And once it gets into the carpet, well, it’s never coming out. Too much? Right, too much. My point is, I will never have my shit together because life is messy and unpredictable and I have to learn to deal with it. (A zen master I am not.) However, I’m not a victim of circumstance either. I can buy some bleach and get a new carpet. What I need to do first is get real about my writing process and what I need in order to make the writing happen. So I made a list, and I’m sharing it with you here because the Internet loves lists almost as much as cat videos and trolling.
“Being a doctor is hard. It’s harder for women.”
This is objectively true. They actually did a real scientific study. Because you know it isn’t true until someone puts a p value on it and calls it a statistic.
I am not sure whether it matters if it is “true” or not, or whether it is statistically significant or not. There will always be someone who argues against this. They will say being a doctor is hard for anyone who attempts it.
This is true.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there are not gradations of this thing, “hardness.”
I recently participated in an Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation. I almost always sign up when they’re available because it’s free, they have a theme, and are generally limited to 20 minutes. Regardless of the topic there’s something within the theme that applies to me and I welcome the opportunity to change up my solitary meditation practice.
I didn’t keep a journal when my first daughter was born four years ago. For the first week, my partner and I kept a notebook recording details of feeds, nappy changes, and the odd piece of commentary: “Day 3: a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day”; “Day 5: first parental fight, re dates.” Dates the dried fruit, or dates on a calendar? Four years later, I have no idea, and the notebook is no help. Soon after it stops altogether.
Later, I wished I had kept that notebook for longer, or even better, an actual journal recording my thoughts and feelings. Becoming a parent was momentous and life-changing, and not entirely positive. I ended up writing a book about it, and when I did, I had only unreliable memory to go off. I think I did okay at recounting the experience, but I wished I’d kept better records.
Making time to write.
This is difficult. Some days it is impossible.
How do I find time to draft ideas, make outlines, develop characters?
Then I remember: I wrote an entire novel in 15-minute increments. I did it in the car, at the Laundromat, while the kids were in the bath. I am not a drafter. I am not an outliner. I have tried time and again to sit down and PLAN what I am going to write. But I know that the stories are all around me and they come out when I least expect it. I want to scoop them up, I want to see the ideas floating in my everyday life and use those to get better. I’ve stopped working on my novel for a bit so I can focus on smaller pieces, short stories that bring together everything I am trying to do in my giant book. They’re small, manageable slices of the larger ultimate goal.
“There is a ruthlessness to the creative act. It often involves a betrayal of the status quo.” ―Alan Watt
I have a few habits that prepare my thoughts for my writing time. I’m lucky to have two weekday mornings every week that I can write until 10 am. I wake up early and get started before the movement of the house begins. I take advantage of being an early riser on the weekends as well and I use that quiet time the same way: meditation and writing, for a total of four days/week. Sometimes I’m pleased with the work, other times it’s words and words of unused drafts. All part of the learning curve of finding and expressing my voice.
Over the summer I noticed I was becoming a little particular with my ritual. What started out as a cup of coffee and a quick meditation became an indecisive time-consuming mess robbing me of words on the page.
I found this postcard at The Strand in New York City. It struck a nerve for me. I tacked it on my bulletin board where all of my writing stuff goes, right next to the “No clichés, asshole!” note my writing instructor Janelle left in one of my margins. Prime spot on the board.
In an interview with Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Toni Morrison spoke frankly about writing in the midst of life, not in grand moments apart from it:
And I remember very clearly I was writing with a pencil. I was sitting on a couch, writing with a pencil, trying to think up something and remembering what I just described. And I was – the tablet was that legal pad, you know, yellow with the lines, and I had a baby. My older son was barely walking, and he spit up on the tablet. And I was doing something really interesting, I think, with a sentence because I wrote around the puke because I figured I could always wipe that away, but I might not get that sentence again.
We are ten women who all signed up for Renegade Mothering blogger, Janelle Hanchett’s Write Anyway class in 2015. It was an online course designed to break down barriers we all face when deciding to write. We hailed from all corners of the globe. We learned about how to give less of a shit about our fears in writing. We learned about how to write through it all even when it was hard and we wanted to give up.