June 6, 2011


I read Writing Down the Bones last week. I'd actually read it before, over 10 years ago. I don't think I was ready for it then, even though I liked it enough to keep it all these years.

Natalie Goldberg, the author of the book, stresses practice as the key to "unlocking the writer within," meaning you show up every day and practice (write). I used to feel pretty much the opposite - I'd only show up when I felt like it. Thankfully I usually felt (feel) like showing up often but I have yet to make writing my job. It's always been the thing I'm pursuing - what happens when it becomes work?

I got a taste of this last week. Roy came home from work early and I shut myself in the office for an hour. I had been dreaming of this all week - a whole hour to myself to write whatever I wanted! (The masterpieces that would come flowing out of my pen! Pulitzer Prize, here I come!) I wrote stream-of-consciousness style for ten minutes to warm up and then tried to work on various projects I've got going on. I got very little done because I kept switching around. Nothing felt like it fit. It was hard. It felt like work. I felt very discouraged at the end of the hour.

I don't know what to do with that discouragement other than conclude that it's my natural reaction to creating a new habit. And so I've got to push past it, because that's where the good stuff is.


I wrote the above about an hour ago and since then have been struggling with how to end this post. Because it's all well and good to say, "Well, I've just got to push past it," but doing it is a whole other story. I hate how I (and almost everyone else in the world) tend to say, "But I'm just gotta DO it" and that's it. I don't like that. But what's the alternative? If you've got to do the dishes, do the damn dishes. Writing isn't much different. I think I was just surprised at how the reality was SO different from my fantasy.

Life is tedious. From the every day chores, like dishes and laundry and cleaning counters, to the not-so-everyday chores, like paying for new tires, it sometimes feels like this thing called life is just one giant suckfest of blahs. Like, really? I stepped on avocado and it's smeared all over my foot AGAIN? The car needs gas AGAIN? It's so boring sometimes, and so unremarkable. And you know what? I always wanted to be remarkable. I wouldn't say that I was some genius child, but things came easily to me when I was a kid. I took dance lessons starting when I was 5 years old and the teacher told my mom I had the best point in the class. I didn't have to do a damn thing but point my foot! Amazing. And in school I got good grades so easily. I was always "a pleasure to have in class." And the stories just poured out of me and every single teacher I had told me that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. Because I was good at it so it was bound to happen, right?

I've learned a thing or two since I was a kid, thankfully. And one of the things I've learned is that natural talent is a wonderful thing, but practice makes all the difference. I have written a lot of shitty poems, blog posts, starts of stories etc. I've taken a lot of shitty pictures. But every once in awhile something salvageable comes bubbling up to the surface. The good stuff. And that's what I keep pushing myself towards. I've got natural talent for this writing thing, but it's still so raw. I could be better. I want to be better. So I'll keep practicing, even though sometimes it's damn annoying and inconvenient. Here's a little piece of practice for you, a small something I wrote in the car on the back of a receipt on Memorial Day:

your hand on my leg
in the car
on the way to Lowe's
to buy paint
for the play kitchen
you are building our son
for his 2nd birthday
feels like a divine message
scrawled on the back
of a Thrifty receipt:
"Hey, I love you
and I love this
Iron & Wine CD
and I love this morning
and its clouds of plenty."


Tomorrow's my birthday. Maybe as a gift to myself, I'll practice some more.


Jessica said...

Happy birthday!

Don't you hate it when you spend all morning composing a long comment to someone, while dealing with a crabby, restless baby, and just when you're done reading it over, you accidentally close the window and lose it forever!???

Yeah, that. Let me put the baby down for his nap and hopefully I'll remember what I wrote.

Jessica said...

Okay, comment take-two.

Happy Birthday! I hope you get a pleasant interlude in the never ending suckfest that is life!

I think the challenge with writing comes when we actually admit to our spouse that we want to do this thing, like for money. Then we feel pressure to produce something of value in that one hour we get free to write. At least for me. My husband has never really been in touch with his creative side, so I struggle to make it look like I'm doing something worthwhile.

But we have to get it into our heads that we have to show up at page and "write like a mo-fo" because one has to get out the 90% crap to get to the 10% that is good/of value. So 90% of the time it is painful and it is crap. But 10% of the time we get gold. Or something. So all that practice/habit building has value too. I swear it sounded better the first time I wrote it.

I was wondering if you've heard of "morning pages?" They come from Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist's Way and Vein of Gold, etc.

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages-- they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind-- and they are for your eyes only." (From The Artist's Way website.)

They are supposed to unlock your creativity. You aren't even supposed to read them over until at least a couple of months have passed. That way you are purging muck that might have shown up in your writing otherwise. I've never been able to do them regularly. They are painful. But I always keep their purpose in mind when I haven't been "showing up at the page" and, as Anne Lamott says, "writing shitty first drafts."

Keep up the daily practice!

P.S. If you are stepping on avocados all the time, you must have an avocado tree?! Lucky you! We had one in our backyard when I lived in California and I really took it for granted.