For a while, I was seeing this writer. He was very sexy and very talented and I loved his writing but oh boy, was the relationship rough. Note to self: listen to your mother when she tells you that he should like you more than you like him.
Sometimes, he would sit me down on his couch and I would pick at the frayed edges, my chin resting on my knee as he read his latest piece to me, stopping periodically as he circled a word, added a comma, reversed a word order.
After a time, I realized that I wasn’t listening to the words anymore, but more the rhythm behind them, the melody of his voice rising up and falling down, as he lulled me into a trance that pulled me into another dimension. Just like music.
Everyone takes creative writing in high school, right?
Recently, I happened upon a box of childhood stuff. It yielded some very cringe-worthy essays and poems, but every now and again, there would be a turn of phrase, a choice of word, a particularly evocative point of imagery that reminded me of what it used to feel like to sit in front of the blank page, take a deep breath, and know that if I walked through the fear, I could create a moment of beauty that pleased me. It might not please anyone else but it would tickle something inside of me. And it made me happy.
So, I bought a beautiful journal and found a pen that moved across the page in a way that felt good in my hand. And I started to write. And now and again, here was a phrase, here an adjective, here a sense memory that pleased me again.
Don’t get me wrong, writing is effing hard. Like playing the violin. Sigh.
And if there was ever something for me to try that would NOT be a respite from the practice room, this was it. But maybe that is part of what feels right. I’ve spent a lifetime of hours alone in a windowless practice room, poring over scores and playing the same handful of notes over and over again until it sounded right. A writer’s craft is not dissimilar, so it feels like visiting a new city in the same country. The landscape may be unfamiliar but you can speak the language.
To my equal parts joy and dismay, I find that writing is very similar to learning to play an instrument properly: you have to just keep doing it every day, day in and day out, with no expectations about the future and superhuman patience.
Take a class, find a teacher.
It’s up for debate, whether or not creative writing can be taught. That being said, for a beginning writer like me, out of school for a while, a well-placed writing class or teacher can do a world of good to help jump-start your writing habits.
The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is a 9 week long festival that celebrates and encourages writers of all shapes and all levels. Nestled in the wonderful mini utopia that is Iowa City, you can spend a weekend or two full months taking courses and reveling in writing, reading and writers. The director, Amy Margolis, is a true gem and I am fortunate to be able to collaborate with her on my festival every summer.
In NYC, I found the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, a program that offers both in person and online writing courses all year long. A particularly delightful event is the Write-Ins that occur nearly every Friday and Saturday. These are low key, low pressure ways to get together with other writers, do a couple of hours of free writing and meet some really nice co-conspirators in their pursuit of the written word. And you get wine and nibblies, too – a productive and happy way to spend a weekend evening in the city, all for the price of one NYC cocktail.
But ultimately, you spend a lot of time alone, writing.
Some resources to get you started.
I’ve found Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to be an invaluable source of support and companionship.
A couple of other books to get your imagination humming are:
You can also subscribe to online resources that will send you writing prompts daily. I’ve subscribed to Sarah Selecky‘s website, a Canadian writer whose personal story I found compelling and whose approach to writing seems to find a good balance between abiding by exacting standards while acknowledging the need for nurturing and compassion.
Find your people?
Meetups in your area can be helpful. Wherever you are, you can find regular groups that meet and don’t even really talk that much; they just get together at a coffee shop/office/public space and write together. I like to call these “Anti-procrastination Groups”: I’ve found it’s much harder to not write when you are sitting amongst a group of people writing furiously than when you are alone in your apartment as Facebook updates peal at you from your laptop with seductive urgency.
Start a blog?
And, of course, this blog is a way to keep my writing on a schedule. It’s very easy to get lost swimming in the vast existential abyss of writing for oneself and as a writing teacher told me, writing is a conversation, after all, between the writer and the reader. It certainly helps to have a conversation with someone on the other end of the line, even if you’re not always sure they are there.
Tell your story.
So, in the end, I’m glad that I met my writer, even if the relationship was a roller coaster ride. Because it made me remember a part of myself I’d forgotten.
Find a beautiful journal and a gorgeous pen and write down all your stories. Everyone has a story to tell. Including you.