Most people come to writing because they have a flirting acquaintance with the many rewards it has to offer. Perhaps they have produced the occasional essay or story that met with widespread approval, or have been pleasantly daydreaming about writing the great American novel, or have a lifelong love affair with reading that has made them wonder what it would be like on the other side of the page. Maybe all of us come to writing for one – or all — of these reasons, yet the truth is, so few of us stay. And it’s not because those who do are more talented, or more touched, or so relentlessly pursued by their muses that they occasionally need to ask them to pull back on the inspiration a little because their fingers are cramping from all that furious typing.
But you know this already, don’t you? You’ve probably read something about how important it is for writers to be dedicated to a regular practice. Maybe you’ve heard authors mention a little something about blood, sweat, and tears. Perhaps you’ve even experienced, firsthand, the incredible difference between an easy first draft and a hard-won third. I certainly had encountered all this information and more by the time I began trying to establish an ongoing writing practice, but still I found myself regularly demoralized and frequently bereft when it came to trying to apply all that great advice to my life.
What I’d failed to realize was that, in addition to all the wisdom I’d collected and internalized along the way, I’d also picked up some nasty little mental viruses that made themselves known the moment I tried to put this wisdom into practice. I knew that a regular writing practice was important, but I narrowly assumed that had to look a certain way – sitting down in the same place at the same time every day, for instance – and when it didn’t look the way I’d romanticized it to look, I started to doubt myself. And I also knew that writing could be hard, but when I thought ‘hard’, I somehow pictured Descartes in his bathrobe, furrowing his brow while chewing over the fascinating paradoxes his mind generated while someone else cleaned the bed pan. I didn’t picture getting interrupted every five minutes by a toddler, or getting assigned jury duty for six weeks when I was in the midst of writing a novel, or unexpectedly losing a dear friend when I was just working up the courage to be more vulnerable in my work. Or the infuriating expectations around texting.
The truth is, a healthy writing practice is rarely either pretty or predictable. And for those of us who cannot afford to spend the day in our dressing gowns, it’s enormously inconvenient to keep a regular practice going, mostly because, nine times out of ten, your best laid plans will be derailed. But it’s critical not to confuse inconvenience for incompatibility. Just because you feel like it’s not unfolding the way you think it should does not mean it’s beyond your grasp. It just means that you just need to reframe what the unfolding should look like. If, however, you persist in believing that the writing practice you establish as a 45-year-old mother of three should look like it did that week when you were single and 23 and possessed with the kind of inspirational fervor that only a recent breakup and a six pack of beer can produce, you will get exactly as far as those who decide a marriage is not worth pursuing after the first spark of infatuation has faded.
If, on the other hand, you expect and nourish the kind of commitment that honors both you and your writing, no matter what it looks like or how often it’s derailed, and if you also stop using that magnificent storytelling brain of yours to yield horrible internal narratives about how the fact that the washing machine just broke and the dog has mange means that it just isn’t your destiny to be a writer, you can get an astonishing amount done. If, in other words, you are willing to relinquish everything you’ve imagined about writing to make space for everything that actually works for you around writing — even if that only means five quality minutes a day to check in with curiosity and compassion on your latest pet project — you’ll be on a path to far more rewarding, far more lasting relationship.
Art: Color Chaos 3, Natasha Marie