One of the things I love about writing is having written. The process of writing itself? Often, it’s a pain or even ugly. I sit down with high hopes and big dreams, maybe even an outline and a plan, and after an hour and a lot of “freewriting,” all I have is what Anne Lamott likes to call a shitty first draft.
Sometimes, I can embrace the mess, but many times I cannot. I get into my feelings too fast and start drawing up hard and fast GENERALIZATIONS about who I am and who I am not. For example:
Who I am? A LOUSY WRITER.
Who I am not? GOOD AT THINGS.
Who I am? CLUMSY.
Who I am not? SOPHISTICATED SOUNDING AND LOOKING AND FEELING.
This goes on. I carry the burden of being beneath my own ridiculous expectations with zero grace and tenderness. I walk away, pretend I never wanted anything I ever wanted anyway, guard my heart with hardened fists and give up.
Until the next time the call comes in to sit and put the words down, for the love of everything. Then, I put myself back out there and try again. Maybe this time I give myself more room to spread out and suck a little. Maybe this time I allow myself just to get the words out, without editing or refining or whining. I leave it as is, walk away and think, “Maybe there’s something to this calling? Maybe I’ve got a path to walk here. Maybe?”
This is the moment when I have to tether myself to process over perfection like a mother. It’s the time when I have to choose to protect my call to express with unwavering devotion. This is when the work gets interesting and the writing becomes an entryway to wholeness versus an open door to romance, looking good and easy, breezy times. This is when I see that to write, I have to stay open, and to stay open, I have to be kind. Being kind requires me to start with myself, and starting with myself means taking responsibility for my own healing and care.
Lord, how did I get this tangled? I tell you what-it didn’t happen at me or to me. I walked directly into this dumpster fire with my eyes closed (ON PURPOSE) and my hands tied behind my back (I’M MAGIC-I TIED THEM MY OWN DAMN SELF). Nobody told grown up me that to live is to sacrifice ONLY. I did that, y’all. Why? That’s part of my long walk home.
In any event, I have had to take a break from publishing my writing or even sharing it in any kind of regular way, because I needed, desperately, to be messy and complicated and incoherent and not fully formed for a while. I have needed to roll around inside 743 shitty first drafts and have zero pressure to edit, refine and make shiny. I still need this, and that’s why I journal. That’s why I teach and share the practice of journaling-because it gives me that SPACE (that I believe everyone needs) to spread out and be whole all by myself. It acts like an incubator, and it gives me the conditions I need to grow. I haven’t been hiding out-I’ve been spreading out, and I have more spreading out left to do.
I had a dream last night where I stood up at a no-name conference to talk about journaling and why it’s important. I was supposed to lead a group on writing and why to write and then how to write. I hadn’t prepared, and an hour before my talk was to begin, I put notes together quickly and wondered if I was about to have the bomb of my life. But when I stepped on stage, all the pieces came together. I started by telling a story about my own experiences in writing, and this is how it mostly went:
I grew up in Virginia Beach-a city filled with beaches and coastlines. When I think of that place, I think of the ocean, and how I used to love to stand in front of it or wade out into it and feel myself spread out into the vast expanse. If you look out across the ocean, all that’s left to see is more ocean and, of course, the horizon. There’s no next thing. There’s nothing to do about it. It’s all just there, spreading out, taking up space, being deep and wide and miraculous and itself. When I write, I write to be like the ocean. I write to be more of myself set against the backdrop of whatever I’m becoming. I write to take up space, to spread out, to be deep and wide and miraculous and large. I don’t write to sound nice or look fine or be good. I don’t write to get somewhere really good where everything is elegant and easy. I write because I am.
Writers everywhere can tell you that the way forward is sometimes just the slimey way through. The path to the story that’s relentlessly calling is laid with weeds and tangles and slippery stones. It’s not our job to hate on the way. It’s our responsibility to simply be on the way, and to give ourselves fully to the work we’ve been called to do.
Do not abandon yourself along the way (I repeat this to myself almost daily). Do not sabotage or deny yourself your purpose. Be afraid or embarrassed or uncomfortable, and then, be on your way.
Miss you. Mean it.