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.
Writers and artists are all around us, y’all. In this case, Wendy Lym is a colleague and neighbor (her office is just down the hall from mine) at the community college where I teach. Since we’re also friends on social media, I learned that she won the Texas Observer’s 2017 short story contest with Muriel, and I knew I had to interview her about her off-campus life as a writer. Enjoy!
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.
I’m defective. I can’t figure out if I was born this way or if it was a conscious decision. At five years old, I remember noticing other kids getting super dupes grossed out by spinach and deciding that I would love spinach. Around the time that I reached puberty, I remember deciding that I, absolutely and without a doubt, should not and would not get married (ever) or have children. I remember thinking that I could actually fly before I hit puberty. At 16, I remember astral projecting across my tiny town. I’ve never worked in an office. I’m a female line cook, in a sea of really really male line cooks. I willfully ignore grammar in favor of rhythm. I try to find the “hard way” and I call it the “scenic route.” I don’t know how I got here. I’m 43 and my mind still works this way.
I’m afraid of this defective nature. I don’t understand why I am “other.” My point of view, my poetry, my ideas, my stand up, my art, my love letters are all defective.
“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 tried to read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” years ago while on a spiritual retreat in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. In my early 20s, I believed it was required reading for a good feminist. Sliding that thin book off the shelf among all the other options, I felt like an actual grown-up woman, anticipating the wisdom I was about to receive.
Here’s the thing, though: I could not get into it. And I tried. But it was: (a) boring, and (b) irrelevant to my life. A year post-college, I had recently moved to Chicago and was crashing in a rundown house with a group of my new co-workers. I was years away from beginning to write, and nothing about my sketchy living arrangement indicated the potential for a closet of my own, much less a whole room.
I have yet to gain an appreciation for Woolf’s style, but as I have aged I’ve certainly come to understand the wisdom behind having a room of one’s own.
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 this post Sarah channels her best beat poet self to bring us into the depths of her writer’s block and how she breaks through. Get some strong coffee, curl up in your favorite spot, and settle in for a mind-blowing read.
I’m feeling like a bit of a fraud.
I am a member of this group of women who write in spite of the unyielding demands of daily life—the jobs and kids and partners and hobbies and chores. All of it. I am working on my first book, a memoir about loss and grief and cultivating resilience. It’s about navigating the death of my mom and the subsequent loss of the daughter I thought I had, and what I’m learning along the way. But for the past few months I’ve had a secret: I haven’t been writing. Reading? Yes. Writing emails, Facebook posts, and text messages? Absolutely. But not much real writing.