Inspiration to Write

DSCN0684I’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.


Inspiration to Write — 2 Comments

  1. And then there are those times when life comes crashing right into the middle of your novel, and — makes it better. I was amidst a climactic scene in my current work: the heroine goes into a labyrinth to face the grief and devastation in her own psyche. Before I could finish it, my life was swept up by the death of my beloved Mom a few weeks ago. Floundering in a sea of emotion and things that Must Be Done Now, I occasionally find a piece of flotsam and grab on. And, treading water, realize, “My heroine: she’ll need this, too. She will have to face this, just like this.” Life is weird. Writing is the same, sometimes moreso. We writers seem to each travel this journey on paths sometimes much traveled, hard-beaten clay where Virginia Woolf and John Steinbeck have trodden. Other times, it seems we just have to flounder in the forest, tripping over ferns, stumbling over roots, stopping to catch our breath, cheek pressed against the rough bark of a necessary tree. In the end, it is finding the truth of one’s own journey, and sharing it, that inspires us — and each other.

  2. Yes, yes! And it’s a place to go, when the grief or frustrations of real life are too sharp, then I give them to my characters, experience them at that remove from myself. The two novels I’m finishing are full of windows on grief, and I am looking in and looking out and keeping the glass intact all at once. I think we (writers) are all somewhat crazy (in a good way.)

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