The Write Stuff

Image by Francois Schnell

I’ve been writing a lot lately.

Actually, that’s not true at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and talking a lot about writing and reading a lot about writing.  I’ve even been studying writing with a great teacher.  But sitting down and actually writing?  Not so much.

And this not writing all the while learning about how to have a career as a writer has left me feeling disjointed, like I’m busying myself sprucing up the outside of a house that has cracks in its foundation.

I’m making time for the idea of writing, but not for the act itself.  And why is that?

Well, first there’s the fear.  As long as I don’t put myself out there, I can never be sure whether or not I can really succeed.  I can go on thinking that this dream is viable, that editors will love my writing and readers will too.  I’m not used to being unsuccessful so the idea of receiving rejection letters – and, yes, I know they will inevitably come – doesn’t sit easily with me.  I want to steel myself for them and prepare myself for the pep talks I’ll have to give myself when they do.  And, if I’m honest, sometimes I convince myself it would be easier not to try at all.

And then there’s the work.  Thinking and talking and reading and studying writing are all a lot easier than writing itself.  Writing is not a task-oriented undertaking.  It isn’t about highlighting and taking notes and checking things off of Post-it Note to-do lists, tasks at which I excel.  Instead, writing takes orginality and focus and insight, all of which are even harder to come by than time.

And then there’s the question of voice.  I’ve written before about my ability to play lots of different roles, my comfort with lots of different kinds of people.  This trait – which I usually think of as a good thing – has made it difficult for me to figure out which version of me I want to be when I write.  The down-to-earth me?  The moony intellectual me?  The snarky critical me?  Any why try to be any of those things when others have already done them – and done them better?

There are so many minefields that keep me from putting pen to paper – the practical, the emotional, the mental.  But it’s time, I realize, to stop futzing (yes, futzing) around and start writing.

Because you know what?  The only way out is through.  Writing is what helps me get through.  I need to write in order to write.

I was watching my daughter yesterday as she gnawed on Sophie the Giraffe.  Everything she does, at seven months old, is an exercise in making sense of the world.  And right now her mouth is the vehicle through which she comes to understand things.  If it’s within her reach, it goes into her mouth.  She’s learning smooth, crinkly, bumpy, rough, gumming her way toward what she likes and what she doesn’t.

Ever since I started writing, putting my words down on paper has been how I’ve come to make sense of things.  My pen is my vehicle for understanding.  So when I don’t do it enough – when I worry about the machinery of writing, talking about writing and buying pretty notebooks rather than actually writing – I deprive myself of my chance to understand what’s going on in my head and in my heart.

So excuse me, if you will.  Enough talk.  I’ve got some writing to do.

What role does writing play in your life?  Are you more of a consumer of words or a producer of them?  How do you procrastinate?

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59 responses to “The Write Stuff

  1. 🙂 Interesting post, and, yes, I’m not writing write now because I’m posting a comment on a blog I’m not supposed to be reading right now because I have to be writing…….. well kinda, its the first time I’ve started even breathing towards it in over a year.

    So how do I procrastinate? quite simply I end up telling myself there are better things I could do with my time…… and usually I can find something – lol

    So hoepfully I can turn a new leaf, steal myself away from the sparkly joys of a 21st century life-time and get down to basics!

    writing, easiest thing to do in the world, easiest thing to ignore too…..

    …just keep typing…. just keep typing…

    Lisa
    @lisa107b

  2. Oh how I relate to this post (no surprise, I’m sure!). Like you, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about writing, and I even have a solid chunk of manuscript drafted (albeit in VERY rough format). And I blog, and I do my morning pages, but essentially all of it is for me. I suppose it’s practice, but I haven’t been able to take it up a notch. So I read this post eagerly and just felt so much better to be in such good company.

    Also, can I tell you how lovely it is to read a post which alludes to previous things you’ve written and think, my goodness, we’ve been together in this space for a while now haven’t we? I truly love that!

  3. I think a lot about writing and go as far as crafting and revising sentences in my head. What stops me from putting pen to paper or finger to key? I suspect the same culprits: procrastination by blog reading, Pinterest pinning… Or the certainty that not having the right pen or journal will muddle the sentences. It’s silly. I also worry about my voice. I do a lot of writing at work – Scientific writing with a corporate voice. Sometimes I wonder if it sucks my writing juice in general, or affects the personality of my words. In fact, they are all excuses for the fear of not doing it well enough.

    • I think you’re right: we can come up with endless excuses that mask the fact that we’re afraid – of what other people will think, of what we might figure out about ourselves through writing about it. I always feel better when I write more, when I’m able to block out the excuses for awhile. And I’m left wondering: why do I resist the things that make me feel better?

  4. I get this. Wow, do I ever.

    Now go write! {I have so much authority, yes?}

    And for the record- futzing perfect. {See, authority.}

    🙂

  5. Ha! I just posted about procrastination! I am learning to laugh at myself about that one. Because I do it so well.

    There is kindness here, right? We do things that are writerly things that aren’t putting pen to paper. I think we often forget that pondering and wandering are writer activities too. They create that yearning that drive us to the pen.

    I love this, “The only way out is through.” This I believe with all my heart. And because it’s a jungle in there, I’m taking all my gentle salves to heal myself as I get cut up along the way. I won’t rush myself, neither will I bash myself when I need to sit down and rest. Babies sleep when they’ve had enough. I’ll take that as my lesson just like the giraffe.

    • There’s kindness here. Sure. I try to be gentle with myself, especially these days when my rhythms are usually defined by three small people. But I also mean to remind myself of the good that comes from the writing itself and not just the gathering up of the material. I can spend every minute of my day content with the wandering and pondering, but it’s the actual writing that gives me the revelatory moments. And I need those too.

      Does that make sense?

  6. I hear ya! Ditto for me (only I’d add “reorganize entire kitchen” to my list of non-writing activities. But I think you coined a new phrase here, next time I go sit down to write, I’m going to say, “time to gum the giraffe.”

  7. What a relief to find I am not the only one who has a hard time sitting down to write! Great post as usual. By the way, you voice always sounds so authentic to me. Despite our many selves, the page (or keyboard) seems to call our essential nature. So glad you are looking at writing more – you are so talented!!!!

  8. I’ve had my moments where I can’t quite get a grip on where I want to start, or what I want to say. Sometimes the scope of a project is just so huge. Sometimes you just have to start, and figure out the rest once you have some words on paper, you know?

  9. Yep, the fear. It paralyzes me. Why am I such a chicken? Blog posts are no problem–it’s just a page or two, a moment in time, an anecdote. But anything bigger sends me running for the couch. How lucky you are to study with Meagan!

    • You know, I wonder sometimes if blog writing makes me even more scared to try to publish in other forums. Here we write and everyone is nice about it. There? Not so much. Have you ever looked at the comments section of Motherlode or letters to the editor in some parenting magazines? Those people have claws and they’re not afraid to use them.

  10. Through writing I have realized that these fears you speak of (and the related defenses of dread, dreams of “success” and subsequent procrastination and intermittent existential crises) are part of what allows us to connect—when we’re honest about them. So thank you for being honest and then heading off to write. You’re putting fears in the light of day, and they may lose their power to stop you as you confront them, like a little water on the wicked witch.

    Perhaps we write (and sing, dance, cook, garden, etc.) in order to navigate the opposites of being a true individual (our voice, our point of view, our soul-expressing) and fully feel that we are part of the group, loving and loved. Perhaps realizing our shared dread of loss, abandonment and annihilation of various, but always overwhelming, stripes might prove a bridge our worst dark places to the feelings toward which we most ardently aspire: to matter without others not mattering, to have without others not lacking, to be loved without others feeling unloved, to love without feeling mistrusted and misunderstood.

    I’m haunted by Steinbeck’s ultimate conclusion in “East of Eden,” which turns on the concept of “Timshel,” meaning thou mayest… thus we can create and make our offerings. They are received or not. Our free will is to make the offerings and accept that how they are received is truly beyond our control.

    Still, choosing to love, to express love through our offerings, through moony intellectual, critical, snarky, futzy, daring, tender multiplicities… perhaps this is where process proves central and product of lesser consequence.

    Perhaps this is where we realize that we love and are loved. Already. And that our works need not change the world, but rather love the world, for we are that world we are trying to reach with our works. Trust that you are loved, that we, your readers are interested, that we won’t love you only after, or because, you write your great work, therefore you are free to make your offering, free to share your spirit and trust that it does matter—and that we’ll clap if you fly and catch you if you fall.

    • …I meant have without others lacking, but you know what I mean, and it underscores that we have to be a little free to misspeak to find the thread of our voices. Namaste

      • And, I suspect, when we get to that place where we “make the offerings and accept that how they are received is truly beyond our control,” our offerings are their truest, and perhaps even our “best” – whatever that means.

        You have me thinking about the times in my day when I don’t think at all about how I am received by others. The first thing that came to mind was playing with my kids, when I am at my silliest and most goofy. How to bring that attitude (that I never really think of as an attitude – and that’s probably the crux of it) to more of my day…

  11. I have two rules of writing that I follow:

    1) Don’t overthink it.
    2) Just write.

    I can always tell when I stray from them because that is when writing becomes more of a struggle and some of my joy in doing it is diminished.

    When I let go and the let the words flow from my fingertips to the keyboard and then onto the screen all is well or so it seems to me.

    Some people love my writing, some hate it and some are just ambivalent about it. I haven’t turned writing into a full time gig but I still find freelance work and assorted business opportunities.

    But even if I didn’t I would continue to write because these words are where you find the pieces of my heart and fragments of my soul. I don’t say that lightly or facetiously, writing is a critical part of me.

  12. Ah, the Fear Factor. I know it all too well.

    You have a phenomenal voice already, Kristen. Nothing to fear (though I know that’s easy to say.)

    As for the role of writing in my life – I think you already know. Like breathing. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t a love-hate relationships – always has been, always will be.

  13. Kristen, I love this honest post. I would read anything that you write. I understand how you feel, and I am certain you will overcome the fear and you will follow your passion.

  14. Love this honest post. TOTALLY in the same boat (and same class) with you 🙂

  15. Orginality and focus and insight, all of which are even harder to come by than time.

    Kristen, I beg to differ. Time is the hardest thing. Sit your ass down and the rest will come.

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  17. I so so get this. We have much to chat about, my friend.

  18. I use writing as a tool to help me understand also. I have found that if I do all my thinking away from pen and paper, then I retread the same territory over and over again because I did not make a permanent reminder of whatever it was that I figured out. But that’s mostly diary writing. It is hard to put yourself out there for public consumption. When I saw what you wrote about commenters on Motherlode et al, my knee-jerk reaction was to tell you that those individuals are not the ones you are writing for, perhaps I would suggest you simply ignore them. But why are they there, taking time out of their day to criticize or assassinate someone they’ll never meet? Should we be trying to convert these folk to our gentler ways? Should we create forums where they are banned instead? Or is this an accurate reflection of our society as a whole?

    • I think that Internet forums can sometimes bring out the worst in people, allowing them to vocalize their ugliest thoughts – the ones I doubt they would ever say to someone face to face – maybe because they mean them, or maybe because they’ve had a bad day and just want to take it out on somebody. But it comes with the territory, I suppose. If I want to write for an audience (and I think I do), I need to grow a thicker skin and be ready to accept criticism, considering it if it comes from an editor or a thoughtful critic or brushing it off if it arrives via troll.

  19. I’m in a different boat then you because I don’t consider myself to be an aspiring writer. I write whatever comes to mind, in whatever voice feels right at the moment whenever I can find the time. I think, as with all things, if you love something enough, you find the time. But it will come at the expense of other things.

    I like Wolf’s response above – just sit your ass down and do it. 🙂

  20. I call procrastination my “incubation period.” It’s a wonderful catch-all excuse and it works every time!

  21. Working from home and balancing this with motherhood, I just don’t have time to procrastinate. The very little time I have for myself, I spend it writing for my paying clients. Then I use whatever is left to write for my blogs. The very last of it is used for reading, which tends to impact how many hours I sleep since I do it at the very end of the day. Of course, I’d love to find the time to actually write what I really want to write about, but this will have to wait until my kids are both in school most of the day.

    Do whatever feels right for you but never find an excuse not to write something. My best advice? Do it the very first time you’re free in the morning and don’t do anything else until you’re satisfied. Otherwise, you’ll just postpone it throughout the day and this never ends well…

    • I’ve been thinking lately that, for me, procrastination is a form of self-indulgence. I have so little time to myself these days and I need to be more mindful of how I use it. Ultimately, how I use those minutes is up to me, but I know I’m ultimately more satisfied if I use my time on writing than on many other things.

      • Before I started freelancing, I took a whole month to do no work (paid or unpaid), to take a mental break. One month doesn’t sound like a lot but for me it felt like an eternity of idling time. But it was a great exercise, giving me time to reflect on what type of work I wanted to do when going in business for myself. I’d definitely recommend you do that. Your brain will figure out in the background what you really want to do and how, and then things will just fall naturally.

  22. Oh how I hear you, although I have long abandoned the idea of writing for a living. Maybe I’m just too afraid but I don’t think I’ll have enough discipline for it either. But even in blog writing, it has been challenging to find the time. The ideas bloom in my head and sometimes wither before they even take shape because for the writing to happen, the stars have to align and rarely does that ever happen anymore.

    And so I live vicariously through you. Eagerly awaiting your first published work 🙂

  23. Great post! I don’t have anything to add. You put it so well.

    (now go write) 😉

  24. Do I always start my comments here with “Oh Yes!” and “I’m nodding as I read?” Well, sorry to repeat, but so often you hit my exact emotion and feeling on the proverbial head.

    Accepting the time when life provides fodder instead of words, and giving thanks for the words that interpret the fodder.

    So good to be here again, reading your words. xo

  25. Kristen: Your words reflect some of my own struggles. I read about writing, collect books by writers on writing, and think about writing. There is fear, time and excuses. I’ve recognized I am my own roadblock to my writing. It’s the inner critic at every corner yelling and I am desperately trying to resist giving in.
    As far as what has worked: start writing for 10 minutes at the same time of the day and then you’ll find something to build on. Even if you believe what you are writing is awful, write it anyway.
    I believe you have a voice and grace in your words. Just write it, Kristen – I am certain readers would read your words.

  26. I’ve been a writer for decades. I’ve only started sharing my writing recently. It was the fear of rejection that held me back. Now that I’m blogging just for the sake of writing and not for writing for pay, it’s so much easier.

    • I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels paralyzed by the fear of rejection. I think blogging is a great vehicle for un-sticking that fear: just letting the words flow and hitting “publish” can be really liberating.

      Thanks for visiting, radar5!

  27. Your post really hit home. I’ve kept journals for years but only this year, after many years facing a life altering challenge, did I decide to create a blog of my own, http://claritygirl.tumblr.com/. It has been my place of refuge and healing.
    I’ve recently begun to come out of a creative/writing block. So when I came across this, I made sure it would be someplace I would SEE it, and it reminds me to just do it. Even if nothing but a few sentences for the moment and keep building.
    “Dorothea Brand, in her brilliant 1950s book Becoming a Writer advocates that real writers simply commit to ‘meeting at the page’ daily, at a selected time, for just ten minutes. She says that maybe if you can’t even commit to that then maybe “Your desire to fail is greater than your desire to succeed.”
    May the force be with you. Happy writing!

    • Thank you for sharing that quote, Clarity Girl. Making writing a daily practice is the simplest – and the best – writing advice I’ve ever gotten. And it’s no surprise that it’s what many of the great writers emphasize when students ask for their advice.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  28. I have a huge collection of pretty notebooks. Shame!

    • No shame at all, Lisa – especially if those pretty notebooks inspire you to write. (I recently realized that the prettiness of my notebooks is inversely proportional to the quality of writing I put inside them.) 🙂

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