I took part in a Writers League of Texas panel this week. The topic was restarting projects: How to begin or re-begin something.
Yes, getting yourself to sit down can be hard. Or sometimes sitting down AND believing yourself can be hard. For those problems, I suggest therapy or a time management seminar. But what about the actual writing? What are you going to put on the page? Do you know the story? Do you hear the first line? Is there a scene that keeps pulling at you?
If you know the story, sit down and tell it to yourself. All the way through. Don’t stop. That’s first draft. You don’t have to have the whole thing worked out. It won’t be pretty. It’s a first draft. Just get it down so you can look at it and read it.
If you know the first line, write it down. Then write a second and a third. Keep going. Something will spin itself on to the page. Keep trusting the voice and words inside you. Again, it won’t be a masterwork but you will have something on the page that you see and edit.
If there is a scene that keeps pulling at you, write it down for god sakes. It doesn’t matter if it comes at the end or the middle or the climax. WRITE. IT. DOWN. There’s a reason it’s pulling at you. There’s something in it. If you write it down, there will be clues in that scene for another scene. And another. And another. I promise.
But here’s the deal, start with what’s calling to you. Don’t tell yourself, “Oh I have to begin at the beginning. I have to go in order.” That’s bollux.
Write the juicy scene. Write the ending. Write the scene you know you need. Write the scene that makes you feel joyful, that makes you feel excited about writing. There are enough hard parts in writing and being a writer. Don’t starve yourself from the joy of writing the scene that’s calling to you.
I’m starting to feel precious about each word I’m writing in this space. I’m judging each one. The joy is leaking out. I’m going for perfection which sucks (Danger: Swearing ahead.) because perfection doesn’t exist. Well, maybe it does for a half a second. Like when a rose is perfectly opened but then it drops a peel or turns brown or wilts just a tad and poof, perfection is gone. Or maybe, we move too fast to notice perfection. Like all we’re doing is going toward precious perfection and when we get there, we’re going so fast that we miss it. Zip. Gone. Missed it. And we still have that hollow feeling in our hearts: where is perfection? Why can’t I get there?
Because you’re going too fucking fast.
And of course, there’s this bit: you want someone else to tell you when something (story, painting, poem) is perfect. Or good. Or excellent. Or fill in the blank. So not only are you striving, striving, striving for precious perfection at warp speed, you are relying on someone outside of you to tell you when you get there.
Do you see how fucked up that is? So. Fucked. Up.
Last night the wind shifted.
Yesterday, the lazy air from the Gulf
Drifted around my neighborhood
Lounged with damp fingers on the flagstones.
A sweaty dame on a chaise lounge
too bored to get up and leave.
The north wind knocked her out of the chair
ripped the plastic plaid strapping from the hollow metal tubes
I heard the clatter of it
Then gust after gust sweeping her down the street
Ahh, she’s gone
I dug further under the covers.
Okay. Okay. Stop. I’m starting to get stuck on the form and trying too hard to be cute with the words and the images. Stop.
Here’s what happened. I felt the weather change last night as I slept. I love when the wind shifts. I love the drama of it because you can never tell exactly what the change will look like. All the weather apps in the world can’t prepare you for the whistle or the banging or even the roar. I’ve been lucky. I’ve always lived in hearty homes where the walls didn’t break and roofs didn’t leak and windows only rattled. I’ve been safe. That’s when I thought about change. How we brace for it. How we try to navigate it with the least disruption possible. How we clench against it. Or soldier through. You get the idea.
Weather changes whether we brace or clench or plan.
And then I thought this profound thought: Ahh, so weather could be a practice. But what about climate change and global warming…Oh fuck.
Your ten minutes are way up. Let this post go. You’re done.
I stood in the parking lot of the Coronado National Monument and listened to the park ranger talk about the bands of drug cartels barreling across the border in their trucks. “I’ve watched them unload metal planks and lean them up on four foot high fences and then floor it so their trucks fly off the other side of the fence. They don’t stop. I’ve had them come straight at me. I know there’s aliens up there in those peaks waiting and signaling to their people across the border.”
I look up at the rocky cliffs and see nothing. Blue sky. Scrubby pine trees. Pinkish rocks. I think about spy movies where there is the glint of light on a mirror signaling to someone far away. No glint. No signal.
The ranger keeps talking about the border and how he wouldn’t have come back to work at this park if they hadn’t built the thirty foot wall. “It was too dangerous.” His blue eyes look straight at me. The way he speaks is matter of fact. Not angry. Not trying to convince me. His experience is seeing lots of people cross the border illegally. His experience forms his belief.
Belief shapes our reality. What we see (and don’t see) bolsters that belief.
My mind skips to a French University I attended long ago. There was a delegation of Chinese students attending the University. They moved as a group. They were never alone. They exercised, ate and studied together. I’d heard they were not allowed to interact with anyone outside their group. They were meant to be in France, learn French and return to China unblemished by their experience.
How weird, I thought. What if one of them met someone and fell in love, I wondered. (I was madly in love with a Japanese man.) I believed in the power of love to shift the ground underneath one’s feet and make you see the world through a different lens.
I still do. I believe in the corrupting influence of love.
What does this have to do with joy? Or my year long inquiry into joy?
If I believe the writing will be hard, it will be. If I believe writing is a duty and an obligation, it will be. If I come to the page with fear and dread, then they will be my writing partners.
If I come to the page with curiosity and faith and the belief that I can write something lovely and rich and deep and meaningful and striated with light and dark, well, then…
Let me be corrupted by joy.
No, Really. I went hiking in Southern Arizona. See…
It was beautiful. Really freaking beautiful. Every step was a joy. Even the hard ones.
But here I am again. And believe me, I hesitated about coming back. Not from hiking. Back to the joy inquiry. Why? Well, because I said I was going to do it every day. So of course when I didn’t, I immediately thought, “Well, you fucked up. You can’t keep a commitment. You are SUCH a flaky loser writer.”
Wow, harsh, eh? No one can’t beat me up like I can beat me up.
And no one can get up but me. So in the face of all that beating myself up, I start again. Things happen. Life twists and turns. We have to let things go slack for a bit so we can pick something else up. The point is to pick it back up if it’s important. This inquiry is important.
If only to stop the beating up of my dear, sweet self and live more joyfully every day.