On Writing

Old Florida Bookshop, Fort Lauderdale, 2018

Old Florida Bookshop, Fort Lauderdale, 2018

I know that magic is real because writing exists. Writers pull back the curtains we’d ordinarily hide behind and force us to see the things we don’t want to see. The loss that drives the villain, the malice in the hero. All of the tarnished humanity that is so difficult to see in the supermarket line. That someone can sit down at a page and type or write out the story of a soul is amazing to me. That a writer can pull, from the depths of their crippling loneliness, a story of strength. That pain can tell you how a heart breaks.

I think that is why it is so painful to do when you are an ordinary person. When you cannot expect the thing that comes forward to be a great thing. Or a good thing even. And you have to be okay with it anyway.

But I have loved writing since I first held a pen, with that kind of blind inevitableness that we can spend our whole lives trying to find. I have loved books and words more than people since my mother read me the Little House on the Prairie series at 4 years old. I have never wanted to be anything else.

But it's a terrible thing, growing up. Once I got old enough to be self-conscious, the thought of putting bad writing into the world terrified and embarrassed me. I compared my writing to that of professional writers and found it wanting. I worried that no one would read, that I'd be unrelatable, that people would laugh or judge me. And so, I opted out before I began. I stopped calling myself a writer.

But still, I wrote, scribbling away in notebooks that I was too ashamed to even re-read myself. And if this sounds very dramatic, that's because it was. What was the worst that could happen? No one liked my work? No one read it? None of that matters.

The teachers I’ve sought say that to be a writer, you just sit and write. You do the work for the work’s sake and you do not anticipate an outcome. You just show up. You just write. Day after day, even on the days when you’re bone-tired and have nothing to say. And then one day, when you’re ready and able and humbled by labor, the thing that you were born to write comes.

Maybe.

Or maybe not. And if it does, you write it and you let it be. It is independent now, and no longer a part of you. You must let it live its’ own life.

See, I’ve always known that I would write. I just foolishly thought it would be easier. I didn’t realize the battle this is. The way that it never feels enough. Lies and the posturing come so easily when you’re trying to avoid the truth. Writing what's real, even if it's just for yourself, feels vulnerable beyond measure.

I don’t know what I’ll be writing a year from now, I just know that it is entirely up to me to make sure I AM writing next year. I’ve quit so many times that it has become a habit. But I am not who I was when I first thought about writing. There was an innocence there that could never have lasted, and a romanticism that has become jaded. And under everything, the fear that this whole thing is just impossible.

Pema says “Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s waiting out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” That’s what writing feels like. Like new territory, when I don’t have a map, but god is the trail so damn beautiful. And dangerous and vulnerable, and all of the things that make up a life.

Lately I've been forcing myself to put my writing into the world online here and it has been amazing and vulnerable and terrifying all at once. And, I call myself a writer again. See I used to think that in order to call yourself a writer you needed a book deal and a published work. That it needed to be your full-time job. But it turns out that who signs my paycheck doesn't matter. That the act does. That I am a writer, simply because I write.

Sometimes very, very poorly. And sometimes okay. But every once in awhile something flows out of my pen that says exactly what I meant it to say. And every terrible thing before of after doesn't matter. And neither does anyone's opinion. Because there I am. On the page. Where nothing used to be.

And in those tiny, rare, glorious moments, I know that magic exists.

 

Hemingway house, Key West, 2017

Hemingway house, Key West, 2017