Monday, October 12, 2009

Joy in the Process

When I was sixteen, I set up an old desk downstairs in my parent's basement. I had an old manual typewriter down there that clicked and clacked as I pounded the keys. You really had to work to hit them since it was so old. I set up an old hardside suitcase as a chair since none of the chairs down there were high enough. And I would spend hours down in the basement (0ne of my least favorite places) crafting a story. I wrote over 150 pages of a novel attempt while sitting cramped on a suitcase handle. But I couldn't stop.

In college I filled notebook after notebook with stories and personal notes. I graduated to a portable manual typewriter that I would sit on the floor with, nestling it in my lap as I sat indian style. I probably drove my neighbors crazy with the constant clack of the keys. I know I drove my roommate crazy. But I was obsessed. I loved writing. And I was completely fearless when it came to it. I would write anything.

Over the last ten years I have barely filled three notebooks. I have written four children's stories that I'm still revising, even though I wrote the first one over eight years ago. I've hardly touched a typewriter and can't even find my old portable. These past couple months I've been trying hard to restart my writing. I've been reading writing manuals. I've been carrying journals. And I've set up my own desk again. My office and library is upstairs in the second bedroom. And all I can show for the last year or so of effort is one and a half notebooks. And last night I started wondering if I was ever cut out to be a writer.

To say that I was a bit down last night is an understatement. Two people came to my rescue, Jeff and Kate Dicamillo. For the last year or so I've been listening to writer interviews wherever I can find them. One of my ones I listened to yesterday was one with Kate Dicamillo done for Barnes and Noble. It's a great interview but I was particularly interested in a poem that Kate mentioned having tacked to her writing desk. It is by Marge Piercy and has these lines: "The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved." And reading those words I am reminded that lately I've been focused on getting published. I've been focusing on being loved, on being read. Not on the craft. Not on the process. Not on the journey. And that's why I've been afraid to write. I write with an editor already in my head telling me that it is not publishable. I forget that writing is its own reward. Sometimes just crafting the story is more fun than having it read. And the crafting portion is what I used to love. I never showed my work to anyone then. I just wanted to see where the characters would go.

And secondly Jeff helped me. I was upset and unsure and Jeff reminded me of something. He reminded me that work is great, but I don't have to be productive all of the time. Sometimes I can take the night off. Sometimes instead of staring at a blank piece of paper and cursing myself I can drink a glass of wine and read comics all evening. Sometimes I can do nothing more than watch a football game and no one will think the less of me. And sometimes I can remember that life is to short to be serious about. In the immortal words of the Indigo Girls "and the best thing you ever done for me, was to help me take my life less seriously. It's only life after all." And I remembered that it's only writing. I'm not curing cancer. No one will die if I don't write. And suddenly I feel a bit more free. A bit more playful. And much more like a writer. Joy is in the process. Work is its own cure.


Lonster said...

Approach each day with the eagerness of a child, an-- aw, whatever. Let's go eat candy and ride bikes!

Cat B said...

Yeah I know the whole post sounds corny but it actually kind of came as a revelation for me. Some days I'm not all that bright.

Mmmmm candy!!!