The writer's life: Dealing with a words pregnancy & learning how to say no
In the movie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Mrs. Muir gazes out over the deep blue ocean and says to the Captain, “Still, it’s honest, the Sea. Makes you face things honestly, doesn’t it?”
It is honest, the Sea. Similarly, I think, Writing is too.
Neil Young believes this call to write comes from “your master.” In an interview once with Charlie Rose he said that no matter what you’re doing or where you are — “unless a loved one’s dying” — when this energy force comes to you, drop everything and go write. He cited an example where he’d left his daughter’s birthday party to do just that. Young called these callings “a gift.”
His wife, he acknowledged, had always supported him whenever these calls occurred. Young’s partner not only understood her partner, she understood the nature of “the master.” Another gift altogether and clearly, one secure spouse.
Throughout my growing up, I wrote stuff. I scribbled down words that later, would sometimes stare back at me from the paper and cause me to cringe or go, “Huh?”
Other times, I might read the words and think that maybe, I’d gotten it. Don’t ask me what “it” was. I only know that getting close to truth feels like you’re slipping your foot into a shoe – a shoe that knows your foot well.
Perhaps writing in my younger years was an attempt to make sense out of what sometimes felt like a confusing place. Home. I’m not sure things became more clear, only that somehow, after writing, I felt better. The kind of feeling you have after digging around in the dirt all day. You’re not tired. You feel spent. Huge difference.
This may sound peculiar but the process of writing can sometimes feel like a pregnancy. My husband will ask me, “So what’s your topic this week?” If I haven’t landed on one, my answer is “I’m not pregnant yet.”
This phase, is, in itself, a whole other story but let me just say — in this kind of pregnancy, no test is required. When the seed’s been planted, or rather the topic discerned — I’m certain, at that very second, and I go with it.
The next phase (prenatal care) is when I’m writing the piece. In my world, this takes place in my hobbit hole (office) and it’s probably best that you do not enter, or if you do — go silent and turn invisible first. Just ask my poor husband.
During this time everything (heart, hands, mind) might move like in a dance. Other times, grind like salt and ice in a hand cranked ice-cream maker. I start with a pencil and legal size note pad and later, move to pencil sharpeners, various kinds of dictionaries, my computer, sometimes maps. I flip through books and piles of paper, set on the floor like stepping-stones. Occasional visits to the porch are often. Anne Lamont is right. “Writing needs to breathe and move.”
What are seldom in use (if at all) are telephones — of any kind or shape — maybe for days. Ahh.
When I come out of the hobbit hole to eat or sleep, sometimes bathe — I’m still with the story or rather, the story is with me, kicking around inside. What may seem “possessed” to others is really a work in progress — an egg that could hatch any time.
Aside from nurturing the writing, you gotta protect it too. People (well intended) and events will eat up your time and cell tissue if you’re not vigilant. If you’re a chronic caretaker as I once was, learning to say “no” was huge, mandatory in fact, if I was seriously going to commit to this writing business.
This word will not win you a popularity contest, especially amongst family members, but “no” can lead you to peace — I promise you. Knowing peace, I’ve decided, is plenty.
Once the story is done, so is my stewardship. Motherhood. Immediately. I think of each piece (while in progress) as having a life similar to that of a sparkler. It burns with an energy all its own. When the fire goes out, the piece may be finished but certainly, not it’s life. I turn that baby loose, hoping that it goes out into the world and in whatever way, large or small, sparks another fire. Maybe — many.
If it’s published, of course I read it again in print but after this, I don’t read it unless I’m needing information or re-editing for a new submission. I found that you can get full of yourself and I prefer feeling full of the piece. Letting it leave me — like a butterfly from a butterfly net.
This also goes for talking about it. Like a dear friend, who is also a contractor said, “Let my work speak for me.” My prayer is slightly different. May my work probably speak. Have song.
Recently I came across a Tagore quote from a little book, Springs of Indian Wisdom.
“God respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing.” Tagore
Fortunately, my line of work feels like both. Writing’s work all right. As Alice Walker wrote, “To learn what is real and true, not by traveling through the air, but by walking on the ground.”
But writing feels like singing too. The strange beauty is, that as the body ages, the voice grows stronger.