How and Why to Write

Don’t waste your time doing dishes, making phone calls, having a large breakfast. Write.

Wait for it. Do stretches and breathing exercises. Lay on your back with your face in the sun and don’t get up until you’re ready. If your shoulders hurt, or your ankles hurt on the hard wood floor, if you are neurotic about the dried salt he left when he forgot to remove his boots, don’t worry. Stay where you are and wait for it. Soon, the muses will come dancing down that beam of sun on your face and enter your room and wait for instruction. Wait until they are mostly there, then get started.

Have all your pots on the stove filled with water. Keep them always just slightly below boiling point. This is for tea, or coffee, or a valued bite of something around noon. For now though you are only concerned with caffeine, so pour yourself a mug. When you sit down to write, sift through your papers with the edits you should work on. Arrange by order of importance, or potential, or what you hate the least. Look at the advice from the writers you know. Ignore them. Write what excites you. If something old and dusty ignites a new spark, however vague or disjointed, follow it. If you have a story that will never, ever, see the light of day, but there is something that makes your heart twirl around like a pinwheel, write that one.

Resist the urge to plan and the urge to fall back into a pattern. This is only satisfying busy work. This is not productive writing. When your plans are all laid out and you are ready to get started, you will have a hard time looking at the work as a whole. You will forget your aptitude for quiet nuance. To look into your writing, look first into yourself. Let yourself be carried along a little. Treat your writing like an animal that trusts you. Do not let go of this animal. If it runs, chase after it. If you lose it, you will never know what it has seen without you.

 

If you stay up long enough, sometimes you complete a cycle. When you get home from your day job and you think about drinking a beer instead, sit down and try to write. Realize you are too distracted and do some other things first. Clean the fridge. Replace the toilet paper. Check tomorrows weather. Answer the text from your boyfriend and tell him he can swing by if he’s in the area. Secretly hope for sex but know he’s only dropping by for a few formalities before returning to his own work. He says he’ll bring over beer tomorrow and you say what kind and he says “something light” and you suggest a Belgium, or a cider. Glance at the computer and back at him. He sees he has to leave and kiss him on the cheek. Walk him to the porch to look at the blues and green the sun left behind and kiss him again. As he’s walking down the steps and you are looking at the shell of a moon, call out “I love you” and he turns around and smiles. He wasn’t expecting that, and that makes you happy.

Get back to work. See the bulk of advice being shoved in your face. Bite a few times. Read some articles about how to concentrate and what to write about. Recognize that even these only serve some larger ego and you are not wrong to ignore them. Time is sinking. You have already clocked in. Start to edit something. Think about alternate endings, beginnings and middles. Try some of those. Feel like nothing works. Feel like the story is an over-whipped batch of cream that has started forming big wads of tasteless fat. Strain out the fat and start again, but it feels too thin, too transparent. The fat is only good in the right places and you’ve ruined it. Go on to something else, you have plenty to work on. Start and stop several things. Sit too close to the computer screen. Feel like you’re getting tired but find something to focus on so you stay awake. Work through some problems. Adjust some sentences so you don’t have your head completely up it. Think in the back of your mind about grad school. Complete a decent page of work.

Reward yourself, but get back to work. You’ve found your groove now, ride it out as long as you can. Don’t get lost in a bad story. Don’t try to push yourself through a brick wall unaided. Proceed through the cycle you’ve created by starting to write. Write several pages of shit and start to get discouraged. Tell yourself to keep going but really begin to feel awful. In a long cycle of doing this, of looking back and adjusting and throwing away and hating everything, you will find a grain of inspiration. This opens up slowly, tenderly, as you write it out in the most honest and gentle way you can. It becomes something small, a little poppy of words that blooms forth and is fragrant, and subtle, and beautiful and you have created it all by yourself. After pages of trash and big enormous things you knew when you started you couldn’t complete, you have this. Sometimes only 200 words, sometimes only 50, but it’s something, and it’s yours.

Fall asleep imagining hands wrapped around your ankles and more hands pressed down on your shoulders. Think about a poem by Mary Oliver. Think about martial artists who use bags of sand to make them stronger, swifter. Think of all the people who have their hands wrapped around your ankles or laid atop your shoulders. Think about how to disappear. Think about how strong you’ll be when the weights are finally removed.

***

Wake up from something awful. It’s earlier than you usually get up but that’s a good thing. Take advantage of the hour but dwell a little in the glow of a dream, the skin you’ll never feel again. Feel rotten, not from the real world but from the dream one. Let that bleed over to feeling rotten about the real world. Jealousy, anger, resentment, failure—all these become tools for self harm this morning. You are trapped in another cycle and it’s too early for that. Try to think about what was written the night before and fail to see how anything you do could be any good. Recognize you are trapped, and you will get nothing done if you stay weighted beneath these awful thoughts. Look for something to pull you out, an object or phrase. Find nothing, not this morning. Take a shower. Remember a shower that felt like ecstasy, real or dreamt, and try to imagine that. Remember the showers in Africa. Wash your face with tea tree oil. Hope that clears your mind. Stew. Dwell. Brew some coffee. Straighten up the kitchen. You are not writing, you are stalling. Pour a mug of black coffee and sit down to write. Begin with a list of good things. They are slow to come to you but you focus on one thing at a time. Start with the man from last night, his unwavering fondness of you, despite your evasions. Start with what he said last week: “There’s nothing you can do to change my mind. It only makes me want to know more.” This is a very special man after all. You are important to him. This is very strange to you, but you write it at the top of the list and it develops from there.

Continue the list with ‘writing’ itself, because it is the thing that gives you purpose. Realize you aren’t terrible. Keep going. Add ‘being alone’ because it is also something you have become very good at, and even though you spiral down your own thoughts sometimes and you ignore your friends and socializing makes you highly anxious, you are strong and self reliant. You can support yourself and ultimately, when you have crossed enough hours like dunes in a desert, you will be better for having done it without much help at all. Write down your day job because although this isn’t glamorous, you love the people you work with and you don’t have to take the work home at night. Write down your pro-bono work, because it looks great on a resume and this work will lead to paid work someday, no doubt. Write down coffee, because you can afford good coffee. Write down sunlight, because spring is coming soon and things will be good. Write down Hemingway. Write down the name of your best friend, because he will always be a source of good will and excitement. When you get to the end of the list write down ‘pain’, because without that catalyst, that fission that was created in your life, you would have no well to draw from. This feels dramatic but it also feels true. Recognize that some of your best work has been dipped in this reservoir. This brings you full circle to the dream you had before you woke up and felt sad and you are suddenly not upset, you are very thankful.

 

Yes. This is a good place to start.

 

Things happen when you begin to write. The list is there to remind you of what you have and that is a good place to begin. You are a seed underground that contains one thing and it is your mission to become that at all times. You are a writer. You feel things differently. You are perceptive and intelligent, and some find you strange. You don’t care what they think of you. You can remember times when your strangeness has caused problems for others, but you don’t care. They will be the beauties that fade and you, a sprout above ground. Although it is hard to make friends you know the reason it happens and you are thankful in the end. Today the work is easy, but other days it is impossible. If you could remain in the groove without consequence, that would be fine. But you know you can’t remain for long. A groove is very special and you are happy to have found one today.

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