When I was 5, I remember writing a poem about a sick boy in our church. In the poem I was sang and danced with him in heaven and asked God to heal him on Earth so we could start singing and dancing now.
From the earliest possible memory, writing has been my constant companion. It is not a healthy relationship. It is not well managed. We are not monogamous. And I am most definitely co-dependent.
If I say I’m a writer, someone inevitably thinks “She’ll write a book,” whereas I think, “Please don’t notice that I’m mildly unstable and dramatic.”
And so my go-to quip has been: “I’ll write a book when I have something to say.”
I wasn’t trying to be sassy. It’s true. The last thing the world needed was a 22-year-old woman waxing philosophical on the rigors of life, and I’m not entirely certain the world even needs another 31-year-old Dallas blogger writing about getting engaged or trying not to diet.
But since I’m feeling semi-optimistic tonight, I’ll tell you what I know about writing. And for starters, I tell you I come from a pretty solid pedigree. My grandmother was a writer, and her father was a newspaperman and his father before him had a newspaper as well. It turns out, I come from a family of writers, which is not comforting at all.
So this book thing ... perhaps I do have something to say now, but when I look at all the writing advice—from well meaning people such as myself!—I realize it’s all a bunch of poppycock. It’s all written for people who have some overbearing editor or publisher who’s already forked over money for the next bestseller. Advice from writing coaches reads like a tombstone to me, if I’m being honest. It might work for you, and I’m so glad if it does and please keep working with it.
But here’s what I do know about writing, organized for your reading pleasure.
1. You can’t make me.
I’ve done everything under the sun to organize my little writing machine. I can crank out other people’s blogs all day long, but not my own. Thirty-day writing challenges make me cringe. “Committing to write every day” sounds like a death threat. And, no, calling it “journaling” doesn’t change a thing. There is nothing about organizing my personal writing process that sounds even remotely interesting or helpful. Even when I talk myself into giving another 10-days-to-writing-fame a try, I fail miserably. I cannot be sat at a table writing when I could be frolicking somewhere elst.
2. When you try to make me, I sound like an authoritative fräulein.
The things I write when I do follow those writing prompts? Yeah, I sound like the coldest of cold. It’s very strange to read.
“Oh, the old victorian gremlin came out to write for you that day,” I think to myself.
I don’t ever take those pieces off my website because they sort of still sound like me—but I can hear the noose tightening around my neck with the well-organized beginning, middle and end. And I am so glad I’m not that tightly corseted person on a regular basis anymore.
3. When I let myself be wild, that’s when the good stuff comes out.
Right now, I’m having a glorious time writing this blog. I snagged my laptop, crawled into bed and have been looking at texts from the people I love the most while some Chilean red wine simmers into my vocabulary a little more. Right now, I love being a writer because I’m choosing it, freely, happily, joyfully. I’m thinking about the best and most wonderful things, which didn’t include trudging to a table to “sit down and be a writer.” My writing and I, we’re on a date and we’re listening to jazz music. Perhaps this is good writing, or maybe it’s just more enjoyable for ME. Either way, I like it, and it’s the only way I’ll write from now on: when I damn well please.
4. I’ll probably never write a book on purpose because that’s not the point.
I’ve helped people write, edit and research books. And that’s a big, fat, long process, and I’m not interested in it whatsoever. There is no glamour or intrigue to that process anymore. I know it all, and that rigidity can stay the hell away. I don’t want to write a book. I want to live a life that might get documented in writing one day.
In my teens I had a legitimate Emily Dickinson complex before I even KNEW who she was -- where I observed everything and everyone from afar and learned how to read people and predict them like a psychic. Do you know how lonely that was? I knew I could’ve retreated into that lonely, writerly lifestyle in my 20s, but I also had some semblance of misguided ambition and vanity along with an innate need to be ANYTHING but a starving writer.
And so I tried this career thing, and we worked out OK together. But right now, while I’m transitioning in my professional life, I’m not a writer and I’m not a career woman. So that means on my best days I’m a plant owner and dish washer and occasionally a writer.
The other night I sat down to meditate on my cushion and instead of breathing intentionally for 5 minutes, I pecked out a 750-word note on my phone. And it was one of those things that I've written in 13 different pieces in the last six years, but it all came together in just the right way, with the right lesson and the perfect ah-ha. In 20 minutes. Poof. Here. Done. A dear friend edited it and I put another hour of re-writing into the piece since it feels somewhat inspired, and now I'm working up the courage to submit it anonymously to a magazine.
This is what I know about writing, which isn't much. But some days, we're all we have.