The longing we have to write our stories is often met with closed doors. Even if we are patient, confident, and settled into a place of comfort, feeling a great sense of trust in the process, words are shy. We are shy. We might also be afraid of what is behind the closed door.
We are afraid that tomorrow we will hate what we have written and be ashamed of our ignorance, our ordinary thoughts (not worth mentioning), our stories which seemed so full in the imagination but on the screen or page look and sound false, embellished or inflated or completely unoriginal.
With billions of bloggers and published book writers to compare ourselves with, why bother to write anything at all? Writing can feel defeating if you are conditioned to work in order to achieve a “win” in the form of an acceptance letter or a hundred comments. My intention and purpose is to get over this need to validate myself as a writer though the victory of printed publishing. I wonder if it might ever be necessary to complete and submit a manuscript, a collection of stories or a poem. It’s easy to let myself believe I’m okay without going there. But a small voice suggests that someday I must try.
Right now, intimidation and ignorance stops me dead. There is no promise that the practice of writing now means payment or acceptance later. Just like there was no promise of a paid career after graduation.
I am also afraid to ask for help and to appear foolish. I remember a moment in the halls of academia when I was brave enough to share with a trusted professor that I wanted to write for a living. Her response that I was “more a reader than a writer” sent me on a rambling, unhappy detour that lasted years. I am slowly recognizing that my habit of writing is the mainstay, the thing that calls me home to myself. It calls me more than my sewing room, more than my housework. I calls me more than the treadmill or the shopping center. It calls me more than a regular job with an hourly wage. After all these years of wanting to write, I have one old blog, a few stories and several chapters of two different novels. I have a scattering of simple poems, handwritten journal entries, a happiness jar, love letters and friendship cards mailed, plus an abundance of facebook statuses. Seven years after graduation, writing now feels like a natural part of my day, not torture.
I donated or sold most of my books (because my tastes had changed), and became more of a “writer” than a “reader.” Just try to tell me what I am, and I will prove you wrong.
The pain of writing has everything to do with my uptight need for perfection.
Two factors contributing to ease in writing are permission to relax, and the blossoming and maturation of friendships. If I follow any “rules” in writing they are to slow down and relax, and make time for friends. I discovered a way to be comfortable not just physically, but emotionally. What would help you to be comfortable with yourself? Maybe this is different for everyone.
I did not develop a regular writing habit in complete solitude, in private word documents or handwritten journals. It came with years of writing on what once began as a handmade lifestyle blog. That blog is now at the point of retirement. (http://kneesandpaws.blogspot.com/)
I am not sad to let it be there in the past, nor am I ashamed to see that I was a beginner in the online world. Those 607 posts helped me to believe that I will write because my life is worth writing and reflecting on. My imagination is something that is worth the exercise. It is at first glance a blog that is colorful and juvenile, but despite my handcrafted cartoonish graphics and an embarrassing title, the writing matured. The content deepened. It is a long story full of love. I’m overcome with gratitude for the friendships that arrived in that space. It is a space in which I can see the incredible gift I have been given to have a family. That blog was a spiritually enriching practice. It changed my worldview and my attitude. It lifted me from an overload of negative thought patterns into the bright blue atmosphere of joy above the clouds.
Today am going to begin this new writing process blog by inviting you through the three doors we may open as a way to engage with the river of life within.
Let’s open a new door and fall into a fresh page.
Open a new door and notice by passing through a threshold that we have been carrying an overloaded pack of daily stresses (did we realize how much pressure we were feeling? Only when we are relieved do we understand how much we were carrying.)
Open a new door to write ourselves through conflict, through change, through defeat. Let us begin, again, again, again. The idea of opening a door and approaching a fresh page is a mental cleansing activity to fly through blocks and ennui, destroying that self defeating habit of not writing because of the mess of the current project. If there’s too much to “clean up” in a file, if we are carrying too much baggage, it can hinder the desire to take writing action. Open a new door and start a fresh page. Remember why writing matters to you. Do you have a collected works of “new projects” with no conclusions? For the sake of writing practice, that is okay.
I took me a long time to discover that my personal meaning behind the act of writing is not necessarily to complete every single project. In not finishing, I have not wasted my time or any materials.
My reason for writing is to appreciate and add depth and perspective to the state of living. It is also a medium to connect with humanity outside of ourselves, an act of compassionate communion. Writing alone for only oneself is sometimes necessary, but for me writing only in solitude often feels pointless, lonely and sad.
Why not write to come alive instead of burying all troubles in a paper grave?
I am compelled to inspire others to develop security, comfort and promise in their own writing. I believe a regular writing practice helps us be more sensitive to others and the world we are experiencing.
This decision to closely examine writing is also based on my desire and responsibility to draw out the writer in my son. If I learn, he also may learn.
The three doors I usually begin writing through are imagination, memory and belief. Perhaps those are the obvious entry points, too broad to be of any use. But simply begin with one door, and you may find that all lead to connecting passages. Some unexpected journeys may soon present themselves, inviting your curiosity. Other doors include people and places. Can you talk about someone without telling a story? Or a place you remember? The stories come out by walking through those doors. Our stories, real and imagined, are not filed away in our minds in alphabetical or numerical systems. They are created by the passing through of thresholds.
You hold all the keys to the house.
Sometimes when I’m doing something else unrelated to writing, a doorway will appear.
Here is an excerpt from my handwritten journal after I opened the door to a random childhood memory. This memory door appeared by accident one day, as memories often float to the surface of their own accord. When they do, try to capture the shape and feel of the revisited experience as it arrives in fragments. Life sort of breaks apart as we live through it, but sometimes the evidence that we lived it can be found in shards.
Our Summer Kitchen
In August the kitchen was full of steam from canning my father’s vegetables grown in the garden we weeded.
Hot smell of boiled jars immersed in the pressure cooker rose and dampened the ceiling.
There was no air conditioner. We lived in the north.
Green beans so clean they didn’t squeak on the teeth like jolly giant, the metal canned beans I disliked but rarely had to eat,
because of the work they did in the summer kitchen.
My father and mother and sometimes my grandparents sawing off kernels
from the cobs that rolled and floated
in the bathtub like logs in a river before the sawmill.
What was the smell from the gas stove? Clouds of steam and clean.
Not chemical clean, the air washed with moist heat.
They sweat and preserved, my father in a white v neck undershirt and baggy faded jeans,
how cold his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and the metallic click of the tab.
My mother in a ruffled apron wipes her glasses.
We played in the cool basement with it’s smooth cement floor and bumpy, crumbling popcorn painted walls.
It was all available at the grocery store: tomatoes, beans, carrots, pickles,
bushels of small red potatoes. Onions. Winter squash.
Produce aisle at A&P we skip, in favor
of our homegrown flavor.
We stored the mason jars and the baskets on the shelves of the dirt room, a cellar
with dad’s workbench and a freezer with meat, and frozen hard, wrinkled bags of sweet corn
we later ate all year,
with a square slice of real butter