I’ve noticed recently a slew of books, classes, and talks geared to help people get jazzed up to write. My reaction to these offerings is a solid “No, thanks.” I’m in a different boat. In my writing life, what I need are convincing reasons to stop the writing, now and then, just for long enough to tend to the laundry, cook a decent meal, hang out with anyone who isn’t living in my house or paying me for my company. How great would it be, for once, to be organized when I head out the door? To not be running late, to be able to attend 100% to the business at hand? But no, my head is in my writing and the rest of life stumbles along behind.
I’m not saying it’s always been this way. These habits, be they “bad” or “good”, have taken forty years to get this grip on me. During those years, there were times when I would have a novel in progress, set aside for months without a word being written. More than that. I would sometimes get so caught up in people, or schooling, or moves, or gardens, that I would forget about the novel for months or years, until suddenly I would trip over it, rediscovering the whole story. This actually works for me because I write better from memory than in the act of inventing. So, if I am remembering what I invented but sort of forgot, the writing comes through in a fuller voice.
Life happens. When I was writing my first novel, while I was working in the tavern, my co-worker, Carmen, shot herself. That crazy death crashed my community and my life skittered out of control for a few months. The novel sat neglected, and occasionally I thought of it. When I got the phone call about Carmen, I was in the middle of writing a scene in which a girl fell in a bathroom and broke her arm. She stayed, patiently, arm hanging, for at least three months until I found my way back to her.
Meanwhile, I journaled. Journals are how I breathe, think, feel. They matter to me more than meals, community, exercise, gardens or dogs. Yes! that important. That list could include sex, swimming, medical prescriptions, reading… I have a bookcase full of journals; piled on top of one another they would surely reach the ceiling. (When I get the real hang of this blog posting business, there will be a caption under that photo “Bottom five shelves, about half of my journals and books drafts.”)
I have read the letters and journals of writers. In this way, I shared the lives of John Steinbeck and Virginia Woolf when I, and they, were younger. Steinbeck once talked about a strategy for keeping writing by stopping each day’s work in the middle of a scene. This gives you something to come back to, he said. In the case of the broken arm, perhaps eventually that was the case.
So, that’s my problem. Please, don’t inspire me, don’t jazz me up. Just be kind to a poor writing addict. Be patient. I’ll do the laundry tomorrow.