Sage Advice from a Writing Friend
We are snowed in up on Patton Thicket. Going anywhere would require walking half a mile through snow and melting ice, and then, where on Earth would I go anyway? It is a day that begs for writing.
I rally just enough mental energy to begin an essay for my MFA application to Naropa University. Last week I pondered this essay for an entire afternoon, without arriving at a topic sentence, a hook, or even a pale glimpse of structure. Today is different. The essay goes smoothly because it has been steeping for a week and is finally ripe with all the right words.
When I finish, I bake a chocolate cake to get myself up and away from the computer. Then I call Mendy, my writer friend and peace activist. Mendy’s inspirational coaching is quite possibly the reason I had the courage to leave my teaching career and plunge into writing. Her influence on me will surface in my life for decades to come.
“How is your book?” she asks. I sigh, then tell her the truth.
“I haven’t been able to touch it since I didn’t get the Arts Council grant.”
“Oh.” She is thinking, digging around in her heart for advice.
“But I have a title, and a structural concept. Now I just have a lot of holes to fill in. At least I know the holes have limits though.” This is how I speak when I am unsure about something I’m passionate about – very vaguely. “The trouble is, I’m not convinced my chapters are long enough.”
“Your chapters are done when you’ve said everything you have to say,” she begins. “Your memoir does not require research. It’s all about the heart and it always has been. That’s why people can relate to it. That’s why what you say about adolescence is timeless even though you’re writing about life in the nineties.”
We go back and forth for almost an hour. I pose questions, she coaches me in response. She checks to make sure I’m getting out enough, treating myself to different activities that stimulate the non-word parts of my existence. I ask about her poetry, her partner’s book, her plans for a degree in Fayetteville. She’s stuck on an article for a local paper and I’m able to offer advice.
“Give specifics about the women poets you know, but provide enough inspirational material to excite readers who’ve never heard these women before. This editor wants a polished piece that will fit right in with her theme of the month. She knows your work and you’re submitting early; give her a good fit and she won’t be able to turn you down,” I offer. She says she’ll write the article this week and send it off.
The cake is finished cooling on the rack by the time we hang up. I make up a recipe for chocolate-peanut-butter icing and get a giddy head rush from tasting the real confectioner’s sugar (it’s no coincidence that it looks like cocaine).