I’ve always been put off by that word. Seems to me that if you’ve got something to say, you should sit down and say it. If you don’t have something to say, you should be quiet. But I also know that it is way too easy to shut yourself up when you shouldn’t. And I also absolutely know that we all have stories to tell and wisdom to share and that these go along with a terrible human tendency to fill time with what is easy and avoid anything that is difficult.
I’ve heard that the folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote a song every day. Her theory was that if you did that, sooner or later one of the songs would be pretty good. Using that theory, I tried writing a poem a day. I did that for about six months. That worked, after a fashion – one or two decent poems resulted. But I soon tired of it and went back to scrubbing the sink and reading library books and watching the birds at the bird feeder.
To be honest, finding my way through life itself has lacked “process.” I’ve never been very good at it. I’ve stumbled along, and been incredibly lucky most of the time, bumping into some pretty wonderful walls that turned into doors. But this life has seldom been intentional.
Don’t get me wrong – I actually decided to marry Charley. I actually decided to have each of my children. I actually decided to move from one town to another and from one job to another. But my decisions were so tied to a serendipitous goddess of sorts. This goddess laid juicy choices at my feet; I didn’t go out and create them. I never sat down and made a life plan. Self-help books put me to sleep.
Somewhere along the line, though, I did actually decide that I wanted to write. Or, to be precise, I figured out that I felt better when I wrote, and then had the happy discovery that people liked to read what I wrote. The problem with writing, however, is that you have to decide a lot of things. First, you have to take the time to write. It doesn’t just happen. So you have to decide to carve out the time from other things. Then, you have to decide on where to write (the table? the coffee shop? which coffee shop? The desk that I set up so hopefully and have never used?). You have to decide (and here’s the really hard part) what to write. I’m pretty good once I’ve decided on the “what.” But it is that beginning, that setting of the path, that vexes.
I am in a writer’s group. We’ve been meeting for many years. I love this group. They are smart, jolly, honest women. They’re people who take writing seriously. We meet every week, rotating as readers, each one of us sharing our writing about every six weeks. But here’s my ugly secret about this writer’s group: Aside from some good heart/soul/friendship energy, the biggest thing that I get from the group is a deadline. A big clunky in-my-face-I’d-better-get- it-together deadline. When it’s my turn to read, I’d better have something to read. So then I have to write. And as often as not, you’ll find me crazily writing on the morning of the group meeting, trying to create something worth presenting.
This keeps my toes to the fire. It isn’t a process, that’s for sure. But it’s a way to keep my fingers on the keyboard and the words coming out. Better than a kick in the head.