Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. I have no doubt that it’s because I’ve been writing these posts faithfully every week for nearly an entire year. And I have no doubt that it’s also because I’m teaching Creative Writing this semester. Naturally, I spend lots of my time talking with aspiring writers about writing.
In fact, when I met with my students last week, we did two, one-minute reflections.
For the first, we reflected on the joy of writing. Let me share some of their responses:
● Creating my own world.
● Finding words that describe my own feelings.
● Gaining an understanding of my own life.
● Discovering something about my own identity.
● Letting my thoughts spew out.
● Getting it done–the rhythm, the music, the wish, the dream, and the fear.
For the second reflection, we tackled the challenges of writing. Again, let me share:
● Getting started.
● Finding an interesting topic.
● Putting myself into my writing.
● Encouraging my paragraphs to talk to one another.
● Choosing which idea to explore.
● Connecting the beginning, the middle, and the end.
● Accepting my writing as it is.
I had planned a third reflection, but we ran out of time. Here’s what it would have been: discoveries about writing.
For this one, I’ll take the lead, sharing my own ideas, based largely on what I’ve discovered about writing as I wrote my weekly blog posts this year.
By and large, what I’ve discovered has been by way of reminders. To start, writing isn’t easy. It isn’t spontaneous. And it isn’t magical.
Here’s something else that I have rediscovered. Writing is work. It’s hard work. It’s lots of hard work.
Work. Hard work. Lots of hard work. That’s my mantra these days when I’m working with other aspiring writers. I front-load the conversation: get ready for rich, robust, and heavy mental lifting.
At the same time, over the last year I’ve reminded myself–and others–that even though the hard art of writing isn’t magical, it is filled with magical moments.
Let me share some of mine.
Magical Moment. Getting hooked on an idea that makes my world fade away.
Magical Moment. Letting an idea explode in my mind as magically as Pop Rocks explode in my mouth.
Magical Moment. Focusing on old-soul insights that have come back to me from far, far away and from long, long ago.
Magical Moment. Fooling around with organizing what I’m writing until I get comfy with one structure that pulls me in close and whispers, “Yes. Let’s do it.”
Don’t get too excited by these moments. They are magical. But let me remind you: they are not magic.
And trust me. The next part–the actual writing–has no magic at all. Sometimes, it might not even have magical moments. The actual writing can be grueling, if not downright defeating, especially since first drafts never hit the mark. Never. Mine don’t, at any rate. Sometimes, even my 13th draft doesn’t seem quite right. How’s this for a confession? Sometimes, I’ve gone as high as 22 drafts. Admittedly, the differences between any two drafts are sometimes majorly minor, and the changes will be unknown forever to all except me. Nonetheless, the work of writing–of revising–goes on and on and on.
And writers keep at it. I keep at it, knowing that what I write will never be perfect, but knowing, too, that at some point it’s as good as it’s going to get.
What I have discovered as well is the simple fact that my scholarly writing is in many ways far easier than writing my personal essays like today’s post. My own scholarly work on The Humourist as well as on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, for example, has singleness of purpose and focus. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.
On the other hand, writing my weekly blog is more challenging, mainly because I don’t focus on the same topic every week. My topics change. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I’ll admit it anyway: I’m never sure from one week to the next exactly what topic will bubble up.
That’s not to say that I don’t have lots of ideas for my posts. I do. I have plenty. In fact, whenever I have an idea for a post, I immediately start a WordPress draft. I give it a working title, and I include as many notes as possible so that when I return, I can glide back into my thinking and writing groove.
Right now, for example, I have 25 drafts in various stages of completion, ranging from “The Power of Showing Up” to “Dating after Twenty-Two” to “Mishaps Make Memories.” I suppose I could also mention “Working Out a Plan” or “A Horrorscopic Week” or “What My Father Saw.” Or I could mention that I might have “My Gardening Attire” finished by next week. I might. But, on the other hand, I might not.
I’m not trying to generate future blog traffic by teasing you with alluring and inviting titles that may or may not morph into posts. Simply put, I have come to the realization that my ideas must germinate in the dark caverns of mindfulness and mindlessness. They must sprout and pop up whenever they are ready for the light of day. No sooner. No later.
All of my tentative topics and all of their accompanying draft notes are simply placeholders. Nothing more.
Yet it occurs to me that maybe they are far more than mere placeholders.
They are talismans. Not to bring me power. Not to bring me luck. But rather to bring me back to the illuminated intensity of the split second when an idea sought refuge within me and pleaded for a some-day home.
What I have discovered, then, is that I need lots and lots of talismans. They are my antidote to the numbness and paralysis that I know fully well will set in if I have no writing options. I don’t write well when my storehouse of options is empty. When that happens, I feel that I have forced myself into the all-too-tight corset of being compelled to write on one topic and one topic only.
On the other hand, when I have many, many topics, one of them might be precisely the one that captures my fancy precisely when my fancy needs to be captured.
It won’t have anything to do with talismanic luck. And it won’t have anything to do with magic.
It will have everything to do with my willingness to let my ideas take their own shape, whatever those shapes might be, without being corseted, without being laced up, and without being forced.
I want my ideas:
● to leave themselves ample space to move around in.
● to do what they want to do.
● to be what they want to be.
It’s really straightforward. My greatest discovery about my own writing is my everlasting need to unlace the corset that constricts my thoughts. It’s my everlasting need to let my ideas breathe and expand freely, whenever and however they wish.