Tag Archives: why write

justifying what we love

Hello, you brilliance you. How is this still-early day of the year finding you? How is your writing today? How is your heart? What do you want to hear about? What are you afraid of or curious about or reaching for this year? What creative or healing intentions have you set for 2014?

At the first Dive Deep meeting on Sunday, we laid out our intentions for our six months’ work together — folks are wanting to complete first or final drafts, generate new stories, prepare manuscripts for submission, reengage in daily writing practices. I found it difficult to choose one project to focus on — I’ve got several asking for my attention at the moment — but decided to make my novel the project I’d bring to Dive Deep for accountability and how do I even say this? My struggle around the novel is that it’s fiction, it’s a very long work, and for me to really be in it means stepping fully outside of my other work for a couple of hours at a time at least. The prompt I brought for us to write to at the beginning of the meeting was, “Why this project, why now?” Why do you need this book or story or practice? Why are you the one to write it? Why should it happen now?

I can answer those questions easily for all of my other projects — they’re related to Writing Ourselves Whole, they’re nonficiton projects, they are aimed specifically at helping others in their own creative practices: I can justify my time on them. It’s not frivolous for me to work on the nonficiton book about writing practice as transformation for survivors of trauma, or the collection of stories from the erotic reading circle (that is so very very overdue). But working on fiction? How is that helping the revolution? And (more immediately), how is that helping to pay the rent? How is that getting food on the table?

How is spending my time writing a made-up story worthwhile?

If anyone else in my life asked that question, I would just about hop out of my chair with all the thousand responses that arose in me. I would invite them to name all the works of fiction that have sustained them during times of difficulty or struggle, characters that helped them to feel less alone, stories that helped them to see the world in a new way or learn a new truth. Stories are what we have to help us make sense of ourselves, our lives, and our possibility. Each new story offers a new possibility into the world — and it can be a constructive possibility or a destructive one. Stories can teach us to be empathetic with others. It gives someone hope, or company, can undermine conventional wisdom, can remind us that this whole thing called living is wholly absurd and gorgeous.

Author Brad Meltzer says, in post entitled “Does Fiction Matter,”

…that’s why books get banned. That’s why they ban Maya Angelou and Judy Blume and Mark Twain. Because stories change us.

And the writing itself changes those of us who write, too, of course — reshapes our knowing, recalibrates our insides, heals us when we write about our difficult experiences (whether fictionally or not) and can help us even when we write about characters we invent out of whole cloth.

The books and stories that have been my closest companions through this life have nearly all been fictional. I have looked to the characters to help me understand how to survive, how to be in relationship with others, how to express and tangle with desire, how to make change, how to live.

Stories matter and impact all who hear them, be they “true” or “fiction.” We know that, right? I take a deep breath — no matter how many times I say it, it seems I still need reminding myself.

So, back to that Dive Deep meeting on Sunday: I committed to return attention to my novel, and work with her at least two hours per week. I haven’t had my novel date yet this week; there were emails to respond to, morning pages to struggle through, this post to write, an essay for another book to work on … there’s always a reason to put the heart work last on the to-do list.

Of course, if a workshop participant came to me with all those Very Important and Good Reasons that they couldn’t get to the work they say they love, I would direct them to this poem from Tony Hoagland, and this reminder from Natalie Goldberg — in order to allow our words to emerge, we have to make room for what doesn’t usually appear on our to-do lists. We have to write “novel” in our datebooks and then keep that writing date. We have to clear out room in the middle of all that Reasonable, Rational, Have-To, and Should that constantly clutters up the living room floor.

What are your creative intentions for 2014? What irrational writing project wants some of your attention? What space can you make on your calendar for the necessary work of creative life– invention and fantasy; naps; conversations with dogs and birds and bare winter branches?

Thanks to you for the ways you have allowed fiction into your heart and bloodstream, for the ways you both create and welcome stories that reshape and reconsider and recreate possibility.

we don’t know who needs our words

Good morning, writers and those readying to write. How are you singing your sleepy songs this morning? What is waking in you already today?

This morning I am thinking about the impact our writing has on others, and how we never know what piece of writing will be exactly what someone else needs to hear — and though, of course that’s generally not why we write in the first place, the issue is a good one to think about: somewhere, there’s someone who needs to hear exactly what it is you need to say and write.

Last weekend, at our first Dive Deep meeting of November, I asked the assembled Divers to write for a bit about a piece of writing that shook them to the core (having been inspired by this essay by Naomi Benaron). We wrote about stories, essay or poems that showed us something new about ourselves, or about the world, writing that broke us open, that changed the lenses we could see the world through. (I wrote about the first time I read Pat Califia’s Macho Sluts a book of lesbian erotic stories that completely changed the way I — at the time, a 19 or 20 year old young woman still being abused by her stepfather — understood that women could be sexual, could have authentic sexual agency. I will never stop being grateful for that book.)

Though I often read traditionally published work that surprises and wakes me up to some new understanding, it’s also true that almost every time I go to an open mic or sit in a circle with folks’ brand new writing in a writing group, I hear something that breaks me open, that shakes me to the core. There is a power in ‘publishing’ our work this way — into the air, directly into the ears of our community. We don’t know, we never know, the full impact our writing will have on others when we offer it out into the world, whether into our own notebooks, into a small circle of trusted writers, into the audience at an poetry slam, or publishing it in a magazine, anthology or other book.

You don’t know who is going to encounter your words and find exactly what they needed in that moment — a challenge or an encouragement or a sense of solidarity or a surprise or an invitation to risk more in their own lives and creative acts. You don’t know who is going to write down a slice of what you said in their notebook so they can read it every day, who is going to tear out your poem and tape it to their mirror, who is going to return to your story in that collection again and again, just to be with the words that they adore.

You don’t know who it’s going to be — but it will be somebody, more than one somebody. What you have to say is needed in the world — your exact poems or stories or essays or multi-genre experiments have an audience waiting for them. You will not know who most of those people are. You will not hear from most of the people who are moved or changed by your work, and you will wonder if it makes any difference for you to be doing this thing of dropping words onto the page, reaching for the next right word, reaching for the right way to say it, trying again and again and again.

Of course, you write for yourself. You write because you have to. You write because the words agitate around inside you until you write them down. You write because the writing itself helps you feel more whole, more sane, more coherent. You aren’t writing for someone else. Of course not. Right?

Except maybe a little. I know that I write as much for myself now as I write for myself ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago, the different selves that still have so much to say, who felt lonely and certain that no one else understood what they were going through. I write for a sister I couldn’t really communicate with for years. I write for a reader who is like the Jen I was at nineteen, beginning to be sure she was never going to get free, and needing the words to point to any other possibility. I write knowing that I am not the only one feeling whatever I’m feeling. I write what I’ve needed to read — just like Toni Morrison says: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Your words have an impact on those who hear them. They open us and change us. They give us insight, show us a new way of understanding the world. Only you see the world the way you do — you have distinct and necessary perspectives, metaphors, phrasings, explanations, knowings, imaginings, mythologies, all specific to your particular life experience and constitution. There is a vernacular unique to you, an internal cosmology, a semantics and a semiotics that are just yours — and that we can only meet if you share them with us.

Martha Graham said it like this:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

Someone needs what you have to share, needs your art, your expression, your words. Please keep writing, though, exactly what you need to say. The sharing of it will come when you’re ready. Tuck away the knowing that someone , somewhere, without know it, is waiting for your words.

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Can you think of a piece of writing that shook you (or your character) to the core, that broke you open or introduced you to something new about yourself, your family, your community, or the world? Give yourself fifteen minutes today to write about that writing — how old were you when you found this writing? What about it was surprising? What was the impact on you?

And, too, don’t forget our extra:ordinary project’s call for stories of everyday resistance and resilience — the questions in the call can act as writing prompts, too!

Of course, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you have allowed yourself to be changed by others’ words, and for what you offer to those in your community, and those readers you’ll never get to meet. Your words have been, will be, a charge, a balm, a generosity. Thank you for those words.

Story. Voice. Witness.

graffiti of a woman in a hood looking out into the world, about to speak (photo by antwerpenR on Flickr)Good morning! It’s quiet out this morning, though my neighbors are already up and going, which has the puppy awake and alert. The chillier morning air has me all bundled up in sweats, with the hood of my sweatshirt gathered up over my head and cinched tight,  and friend-blessed socks covering my toes. In spite of waning sick and some morning panic, it’s a good morning so far. Are there complicated songs welcoming you into this day? What do they sound like?

I have been thinking for the last week or so, as I move towards actually devoting myself to the work I believe in, about re-articulating what exactly that work is. What are these workshops for? What’s the point of this writing practice?

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(NaBloPoMo) #1: What you like best

graffiti that reads 'If not now, when?'It’s National Blog Posting Month over at BlogHer — since I’m already in the middle of a novel and don’t want to start another one right now, I’m going to take on this daily challenge instead. The folks at BlogHer are suggesting topics for each day’s blog, so I’m going to start out with those.

(I love how November has become the month for writing your heart out: Besides NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, there’s WNFIN and I know a few folks who are taking on 30-poems-in-30-days challenges this month as well. How are you marking this month of writing like mad?)

Edit: Dorothy commented to let me know that it’s also National Playwriting Month. Thanks, Dorothy, for passing the word!

It’s evening here where I am, maybe where you are, too. I don’t often write at night, but I’m in a space right now where the words are coming best when it’s dark outside, whether at 4:30 am or 8:30 pm, so I’m going with that pull and energy. The puppy is calm for the moment, though she is waiting for her blue racketball to jump up and bounce for her so she can keep attacking it; for the moment, the ball seems to have lost its vitality. Outside, it’s gone quiet, and so even though things inside me aren’t especially peaceful at the moment, the lack of other distractions helps bring me back here to the desk for a little more writing time today.

Here we go — the first prompt for this year’s NaBloPoMo is this: What’s your favorite part about writing?

My answer (I bet you can guess my answer) is this part right here, the part you can’t see, the part where my fingers are moving hard against keys or the pen drives fast and furious across the page, the part where it seems that my fingers, the movements of these hands, contain or manifest a direct link to my thoughts, where it seems clear that my thoughts weren’t exactly my thoughts, not clearly my thoughts, until my hand/s started moving and I could see them splayed out. I like this act of creation, the generative part, the part that is  the sense that these words were waiting for me to reveal them, no, waiting for me so that they could reveal themselves. This is just starting to happen with the keyboard — I’ve been having that experience for years with handwriting, though, a mystical experience now and again when I’m deep into whatever it is that I’m writing and suddenly I become aware that the pen is simple releasing the words that were already in the page; I can almost see the tip of the pen drawing the words forth from what was blue-lined whitespace just an instant before. Kind of amazing moments, those, and they don’t fare well under scrutiny — when the watcher part of me tries to observe the experience from too far a distance, the mysticism fades. Here’s why, I think: part of that experience, that sense of my just being a vehicle for the vehicle for the words’ release, has to do with interconnectedness — in that moment, all (or at least most of) those fragments I usually live within (you know those fragments: the part that’s worried about money, the part that has to watch everything and tell me how I’m doing, the part that hopes  look good, the part that knows I’m a genius, the part that knows I’m a fool and a failure, the part that thinks I should just be eating something and watching a movie, and the other parts that are somewhat scarier or sadder and more difficult to describe) have quieted or interwoven themselves or hung themselves just barely together, lightly (like a vase that was broken into many pieces that can be fitted back together again but not touched or looked at too hard or breathed in the vicinity of, lest everything crumble again), and we’re all working toward one purpose, and that’s this whatever it is that we’re writing.

That moment. That’s the one that I like the best. That moment when I know I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, maybe even exactly what I was meant to be doing. The part where I feel entirely the same as the eight year-old girl who also loved to watch the pen move across the page, and never knew for sure whether she was making the words appear, or if the words were already trapped in the paper, and she just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That moment when I feel her still smiling in me, and I know we’re still together.

What about you? What’s your favorite part of writing? Want to give that 10 minutes tonight, before bed? Grab your journal and let whatever comes, come.

(You still have time to sign up for the NaBloPoMo, if you’d like — you can share your month of blogging, too!)

Thank you for knowing what you love, for attending to that love, for giving your art and your creativity time and space in your life. Thank you for your words, always for your words.