Thinking about Writing

I can’t stop thinking about writing these days. On my drive to New Orleans last week, I started listing to a podcast called #Amwriting with Jess and KJ. It’s full of interesting observations about writing habits, crafting a book proposal, the process of editing a book (which apparently takes longer than writing the actual book), building your network and brand. There are interviews with writers of all kinds, mainly about the nuts and bolts of being a writer and generating income from writing, and less about -the mushy stuff like how to get inspiration or deal with self-doubt. I appreciate the practicality of it, but it does feel a bit like putting my cart before my horse in that I am learning about how to develop a book proposal and find a publicist when I currently have an average of one reader per blog post that I write. It does sound like a dreamy lifestyle though–I imagine myself as KJ (who ran the Motherlode blog for NY Times and just wrote a book called How to Be a Happier Parent) feeding my farm animals in the morning, taking my kids to hockey practice, and diligently writing 2000 words a day. It sounds so satisfying–to pour your brain onto a page and have people read your words and nod their heads and contemplate your thoughts.

In other words, I’m a little envious of KJ. In their podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Gretchen and Elizabeth wisely observe that we should pay attention to the people we envy–we can learn more about ourselves by understanding what makes us jealous. I like this, because it flips the shame and stigma of jealousy (something that we all feel) into an exercise in self-knowledge. (And really, we can look at any source of shame that we feel as an an opportunity to know thyself.) I envy other writers. I envy Lindy West’s fearlessness and vulnerability. I envy Gretchen Rubin’s voracious research and ability to synthesize information in useful and practical ways. Most recently (this morning) I envied Ann Friedman’s originality, the way she effortlessly weaves together feminism, politics, and pop culture. (Her newsletter is pretty bomb too.)

What do these objects of my envy have in common? (1) They are women. (2) They are (seemingly) unafraid to share their opinions with the world. (3) They are prolific. (4) They are dependably good writers. And (5) they are paid for their writing, in fact writing is their full-time job. Apparently, these things are also what I want for myself (I’m already a woman, so I’ll check that box)? This is a life-complicating realization, because it means that if I don’t someday become a successful writer, then I may be, tragically, filled with regret. And then there’s the even more confounding issue of how to go about becoming a real, paid, prolific, unselfconscious writer.

At least I’m writing. And I’m thinking about writing all the time.

Last week, my husband and I went to a storytelling event that took place in a local brewery here in Jackson. It was kind of like The Moth; all the storytellers were amateurs, but they had received some coaching on their stories. There was a stage, programs, and about 150 people in the audience. Since it was the day before Valentine’s Day, the theme of the night was “Romance…Or Not.” I love listening to stories and watching storytelling as performance, so I was an eager audience member, especially since I knew a couple of the storytellers. Three of the stories were very good, and the best two were told by native Mississippian women–one white, one black. There is a knack for storytelling that is engraved in Southern DNA–the impactful pause, the quirky turn of phrase, the lilting Southern accent. The other three storytellers were okay, but I found myself editing their narratives in my head, picking apart what worked and what didn’t and what they could improve upon. That’s when I realized–maybe I am a writer. And another light bulb: I want to be on this stage next year to tell my story.

But then my critical inner voice tells me “you’re not a real story teller; you’re not a real writer.” I haven’t written much, nor have I told many stories. And I’ve definitely never been paid to write anything. But if I’m being kind to myself, it’s not hard to uncover the writerly breadcrumbs of my life–the essay that earned me 3rd place in a high school writing competition, the poetry I shared with my first real crush, the honors thesis I wrote in college, the academic article I published in collaboration with a professor, the blog posts and articles I wrote for FoodCorps, the blog I kept while traveling around South America for three months, the other blog that I kept on and off when I first moved to Mississippi, the content I’ve written for my business, the grant applications I’ve composed, etc. Teachers, family members, bosses, coworkers, and friends have been telling me for years that my writing is good. And now, I’m choosing to believe in their words and in the winding path my breadcrumbs have illuminated.

And the thinking about writing? I’m taking a coursera about developing character in fiction. I’ve ordered the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. I’m looking for a writing group to join. An imperceptible shift has occurred in my body, the subtle movement of tectonic plates separating, loosening a flow of words from my brain onto the page. My mind is on fire with new ideas and fresh inspiration. Now I’m wondering: how much of writing is thinking?

 

 

 

Starting

Starting is hard, but following through is even harder. I’m getting better at it as I get older. I’ve started many projects but given up quickly. I mean, I said I’d stop drinking coffee in February, but literally on February 2, I had a cuppa joe. Damn. But in general, I’m getting better. I started a business and I’m still running that, so that’s something. I now consistently unload (or “download” as my stepdad says) the dishwasher instead of letting the cleaning dishes hang out for weeks. I even started doing yoga most mornings right when I get out of bed, and I’m still doing that 3 months later.

So, I’m starting this blog. I’m starting it because I don’t want to let my childhood self down. See, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I recently just found my notebook from when I was 9 years old. In the first page I wrote in careful cursive: “Dear Friend, [I was reading a lot of the Dear America diaries at the time] I’m going to start writing in you to list my thoughts, feelings, and just how my day goes. I might even write stories since I’m going to be a writer some day. I for one know that as a fact.” Spoiler alert: I never wrote any stories unless they were school assignments. But I liked the idea of writing stories. I think the idea of being a writer started  because I loved reading books. I devoured them whenever I could. On weekends, I would stay in bed an extra couple hours reading before getting up to eat breakfast. I was like the opposite of the kid who stays up late reading with a flashlight under the covers, because the idea of getting less than a minimum of 7 hours of sleep has always disturbed me.

I did keep journals though, off and on. Even as a kid, I was attracted to the palpable energy of a fresh new journal with crisp blank pages and all the writerly fantasies it contained. In my single digit years, I liked those diaries that would give you cute writing prompts with little questionnaires and a place to tape a lock of your hair.  Inevitably, I would write in the first few pages, get distracted by my Tamagotchi for a few months, and then become disheartened by the diary’s discontinuity. [The Dear America writers never skipped more than a couple days!] Then I would either rip out those pages in an attempt to start afresh, or I would just get my mom to buy me a new journal. In my mind, discontinuity was the opposite of being a writer. I just needed to find the right journal that would inspire me enough to fill it to the brim with words.

For instance. I had this journal with a soft padded cover illustrated in an abstract design of soft pastel yellows, greens, and pinks. I loved its aesthetic. I loved the idea of it so much, that I think I ripped out pages and started over a dozen times. I wish I could see now what I had written before so violently tearing out it’s existence. Only two pages with writing on them remain in this journal. One of them contains this gem:

Nov. 22, 1996

Today was such a pain especially this evening.

I was the cause of it all. First when sam was reading I breathed in his ear then I told mom she didn’t do good at a science experiment which she actually did. Almost everything went wrong. I hope tommorow (sic) is better. I wish grandma would feel better she’s crying. I don’t understand why grown-ups cry about silly things.

Nov. 23, 1996

I can tell it’s going to be a good day not like yesterday.

I read this out loud to my mom as we were going through boxes of my childhood detritus. She actually remembered that day. My full-time working mother had come to volunteer at my school to lead a science experiment. My mom has a masters in geology, she is legit a scientist. Apparently, I said something mean to her as kids are wont to do. And my step-mother, a narcissistic bully with mean-girls blonde hair and acrylic nails, had confronted my grandma (who was visiting for the week) in the school parking lot. It’s unclear what my step mom said, but it was definitely some evil shit. My sensitive, overly dramatic, painfully self-deprecating grandma did not do well with straight up Real Housewives confrontation.

See? That’s the kernel of a story right there. If I only had continued writing, haltingly, even one sentence, or one word a day, instead of becoming discouraged at not writing a Dear America style diary entry every day, then maybe… I would be a writer by now?

To be fair, I did journal more consistently in high school, slightly less throughout college. I wrote moody poems that make me wince when I read them now. And then I stopped journaling around the age of 23. I was beginning to grow into my identity,  I very suddenly became less introspective. My need to put my thoughts on the page evaporated. My last journal entries are–depressingly–about food. About how much sugar I ate or didn’t eat. It was so painfully obvious that I was wrestling with some internal shit, but I externalized my pain by trying to control my diet. But that’s nothing new, right?

I didn’t journal about starting a business. I didn’t journal about meeting the man who would become my husband. I didn’t journal about how we bought our house, or our dog Champ, or planning our wedding. I did start watching more tv. I read fewer books.

I’m 28, almost 29 now. Why do I feel the sudden need to write? I don’t know. I’m reading more books now, and watching less tv. But now that I’ve restarted my writing habit, I don’t want to stop, even if it’s only one sentence a day.