In Writing

Yesterday, I posted what can only be described as a gibberish post.  I was exhausted, it was a crazy day and it had been weighing on me that I hadn’t gotten to the blog. So, when I finally logged on, I gave all I had to give, which wasn’t a lot.  But it was something.

Writing for money is weird. You get into writing because you love it deeply, because you were the type of kid who wrote stories in the back of your notebook when you were supposed to be listening to a teacher. The type that, when real boys proved disappointing at thirteen, wrote stories of the way you wished they’d act. (Every boy in my stories at that age fell madly, passionately in love with me and told me so in page-long soliloquies and in the imaginary poems they wrote to me. Swoon. Still waiting for the real-life guy who knows how to be as romantic and spontaneous as the ones I’ve written about). Most of us who write first got into it because some handful of books shifted the ground beneath us, illuminated us and the world and started that vibrating joy that is love of language.

Writing for a living changes that somewhat.  Sure, I still crazy-love a well-written book.  I still thrill at a beautiful turn of phrase.  I still stay up way into the night when I read a book that puts its hook into me.  But I can’t wait for that high to carry me.  Being a working writer means being a craftsperson, a doer, much more akin to a plumber that gets up every morning at 6:00 a.m. than to the poet that ruminates by the sea.  You just have to put the time in. Sometimes it feels transcendent.  Mostly, it’s just a grind.

I have struggled with discipline all my life.  I am not a creature of habit.  I’m a creature of moods and being moved by them.  I’m an artist, dammit, I tell myself. I can’t turn it on like a tap.  Except that to produce with any regularity, you do have to turn it on like a tap.  So what to do?

That’s where this blog comes in.  I’ve had it for many years, but it was around the time that I got my book deal that it occurred to me that I could use it a a tool for priming the pump.  Writing a book is hard, sticking to one voice and one set of ideas for months on end.  Writing a blog post is easy, done in half an hour, and can tap into that well of moods – silliness, frustration, incredulousness, delight – then move on.  It can be something different every day. It’s a simple way to reconnect to that primal love of writing. So I decided to commit to writing one post a day, rain, shine or grumpiness.

I found it transforming.  Yes, sometimes it leads to its intended purpose and once I finish writing the post I easily transition to my manuscript. But even when that doesn’t happen, the post has still been useful.  Like the habit of kissing your loved one every morning, even when you’re feeling less-than-thrilled with them, it’s a way of reconnecting to my identity as a writer. Knowing I have to come up with a post idea makes me walk through the world always observing, like a writer does, trying to see and not just take for granted.  I may only have one book out, I may not have hit the New York Times bestsellers’ list (yet), but, dammit, I write.  Every day.  So I am a writer. Here’s a kiss and have a good day.

Yet it’s not without its problems.  The daunting prospect of coming up with fresh ideas every day means that some days I produce only drivel.  A lot of days I write things that would be much better left in a personal diary.  In fact, I’ve tried that, writing in a private document instead of on here, but somehow it didn’t feel like as much of a commitment as knowing I send words off into the world.  There’s a formality to that, a realness. Often I cringe and feel bad for the devoted few who click through and read everything faithfully.  Sometimes, if I write something truly personal, usually in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I take it down.  (Or, actually, a little secret: I don’t always delete them.  I change the date on them to two years in the past so that they stop showing up on the “Latest Posts” list).

The value of this blog, for me, is commitment without crippling perfectionism.  Wanting to get everything right the first time is the death of productivity as a writer.  Allowing myself to be loose, unpolished, sometimes zany here on this blog and knowing it’s being seen by others lets me know it’s okay to “fail,” to be less than perfect, and still keep writing.

So, for you devoted few who sit through what is clearly unpolished work: thank you.  You’re the mirror that lets me look at myself and see a real writer.

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