“Whirled in the cyclone, I
am helpless against the storm
until it leaves me to recover
barefoot on the beach.”
I wrote those words 34 years ago as the opening of a book of poems that I never published. Finding the typewritten pages recently in a dusty black binder, I decided to type them into the computer. What I’d do after that, I didn’t know, but it has proven to be a wonderful exercise, connecting the poet and young woman I was with the poet and older woman I am now.
At the time I wrote those poems, I was going through a divorce and living alone for the first time in my life in an apartment a block from the beach in Pacifica, California. I had a different last name. I worked as a reporter for the Pacifica Tribune, drove a yellow VW Rabbit that spent more time in the shop than on the road, and dated several different men. I wrote poems, songs, stories and articles. I submitted them, too, receiving lots of rejections, but not all. One poem won first place in a contest. My prize was a thick book of poetry by William Butler Yeats and a reading in Daly City, California.
Despite my fulltime job, I was constantly asking for advances on my paychecks to make it to the end of the month. Even in 1981, $1,200 a month wasn’t enough. I had long hair, short skirts, thick glasses, and a heart full of dreams. In other words, a younger me. I had not met Fred, never published any books. My parents and grandparents were still alive. But now, widowed, living alone by another beach, I find the parallels striking.
I don’t mention all this just to take a trip down memory lane. I have a point. Writing these poems, most of which were not published, had value. Even at age 29, I was not a new writer. Not only was I a professional journalist, but I had been writing poetry since I was 7 years old. I had won some prizes, gotten some published, taken many classes in creative writing, and had aspirations beyond the weekly newspaper.
Those poems were good practice. I wrote and rewrote and became a better poet. Some of the poems are still good enough to submit.
They serve as a scrapbook that captures that time and the feelings I had then. I didn’t remember a lot of what I wrote in those poems until I read them again. Then the emotions, the scenes, and the experiences came rushing back.
They are source material for future writing. I can use it all for new poems, fiction, essays, or articles.
I find comfort in reading the voice of the younger me, validation that I was a good writer, and a tying of the strings that connect who I was then with who I am now.
What I’m saying is that even the words we never publish have value, so write. Write often in whatever form feels most natural, and save your writing in a format that you will still be able to read in 30 years (flash drive?) and say, “Oh, that’s who you were.” Think of it as a gift to your future self.
If you become famous, maybe those works will be published in a thick book of your “complete works.” You, me, and William Butler Yeats.
Let’s go write!
Our moods have a strong effect on our writing. Happy, sad, angry, frustrated, too busy, distracted—it all plays into how well the words flow onto the page or screen.
This morning, for example, I got up extra early to drive into town for a blood test before breakfast. I was dressed and alert much earlier than usual. The sunrise was glorious, a bright half moon shining over Yaquina bay, clear sky above promising a sunny winter day. It was early, but I felt good. I had had a good sleep and had resolved a problem that had been bothering me.
I had jotted down a writing idea I was eager to pursue. A quick prick in the arm and I was free to eat breakfast and start writing. The words came easily. I could see possibilities, creative phrasing, fresh ideas. I could feel the magic.
I don’t always feel the magic. Sure I can slap words together, but it’s like processing one of those meals-in-a-bag where you open the little containers, pour everything into a casserole dish, microwave it and call it dinner. It’s edible, but nothing special.
So how do you get into a state of mind where the magic can happen? There are ways to encourage it. Having a regular writing practice in which you write at the same time every day helps. My dog has become an enforcer. She follows me around in the mornings until I sit on the loveseat with my notebook. She jumps up beside me, rests her head on my thigh and goes to sleep while I scribble away. If she could speak English, she’d be saying, “It’s time to write now. Stop all this other nonsense.”
It’s important to prepare the atmosphere. Tell everyone in your life that you’re not available during your writing time. Silence the phone, turn off the Internet, TV, radio, everything that makes noise. Brew a cup of tea or coffee, settle into your writing space and take a deep breath.
Often I have no idea what I’m going to write until I get there. I start by journaling, writing down whatever is on my mind. By pouring it onto the page, I’m able to let it go. Try it; it really helps. I’m angry . . . I’m worried . . . I can’t stop thinking about . . . Write it down and let it go. Maybe the very thing you’re obsessing about is what you should write, or maybe you just need to clear space so you can write something else. Be playful. Experiment. Feel free to start something, cross it out and start something else. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good or where you might get it published. Write on paper, on your computer or your iPad, just let words out. If something else calls for your attention, make a note for later.
Some people meditate, taking their minds to a quiet place where all the noise stops or least gets turned down. There are many ways to meditate. The easiest thing is just to become conscious of your breath, listening, feeling, thinking only breathe in, breathe out until you feel the stillness, until you are so quiet you become aware of sounds you don’t usually hear, the refrigerator humming, someone mowing the lawn down the street, the wind whooshing through the bushes outside.
To clear their minds and make way for the muse, some people take walks. Sometimes it helps me to play the piano, mow the lawn or wash the dishes, anything that does not require words. Do whatever works to find that still place where your mind can run and dance on an open field.
Take that stillness to the page and begin with one word, then another. Listen for the magic. It will come.
Now let’s go write.
I’m having one of those days when I don’t want to write. In fact, I don’t want to do anything. I’m leaving on a trip in a couple days, I’ve got someone coming over later today, and I’m worn out from Fourth of July, so I just want to bag the whole business. Why not, you might ask. Lots of folks are taking a long holiday weekend. Good question.
There’s always a good excuse for not doing it. So what are the reasons TO do it? Take a moment here to think about your reasons or try to guess mine.
Got something in mind? Good.
Here are my top five:
Momentum: If I stop in the middle of a project, it’s going to be hard to get my head back into it when I return to it. And I might be tempted to stop altogether. I’m also a musician, and I know that when I’m trying to learn a song, if I don’t keep coming back to it, I never really learn it. Same thing with writing.
Keeping my writing muscles in shape: If I don’t keep to my writing schedule, I get rusty. It gets harder. I don’t like that.
Time: I’m old enough to order off the senior menus, and I’m all too aware that people my age—or any age—can suddenly die or become too sick or disabled to work. If/when that happens, I want to have written everything I possibly can.
Money: I want to publish as much as possible and keep as much money coming in as possible. Self-employed writers do not get sick leave, vacation time, or days off for not being in the mood.
Readers: I have at least a few people who look forward to my next book, article, poem or post. If I don’t keep at it, they’ll lose faith in me and find another writer to read.
So there you have it. I have now written two blog posts and plan to get back to my novel. What are you going to write? What are the reasons that keep you going? Please share.
P.S. Starting Sunday, I’m going to have limited Internet access for about a week. Please forgive me if I’m slow approving comments or putting up new posts. I’ll be back.
Now go write.