The Writing Life

This is how it works:

You work tirelessly and mostly alone as a writer.

When you are strong, every moment contains the elements of a lyrical phrase. There is no turning off the voice. The only way to make it go away is to dive into it headfirst like a child with a fear of black water. This is what must be done day in and day out until the fear is replaced with the tell-tale adrenaline rush of spring water sentences, adjectives breaking the surface into new worlds, nouns like kingdoms of the imagination, verbs that dance like glistening orange fish. At that point the voice bursts the damn and you can tap into it whenever you need it. That’s what writers mean when they say it takes practice.

But you have to engage the world, too. You have to live life in the breath and not just from the desk. You have to roll around in the mud a little bit. You learn that you can write while your hands are busy: while you are engaged in conversation, while you are in the bathroom, while you are working in the garden, while you are stuck in traffic, while you are teaching. You learn that perspective and observation have as much to do with it as putting pen to paper.

Sometimes you think you are going crazy because you cannot turn the voice off. The water runs even at night like a leaky faucet that drip-drip-drips on the offbeat of the second hand of a clock. Peace can be hard to find. You long for R.E.M. You trick yourself into thinking that it was easier before you believed in the correlation between creativity and health. One thousand voices scream at you with all of your doubts, censoring your work and locking gates over your lips.

You learn to fight fire with fire. You fend off your censors with stronger words, heart stones of faith and discipline. Your hard work pays off in grains of sand but the pile is slowly growing. You have friends that believe in you. You make an agreement with the voice. You tell it to turn off during the Bob Dylan concert. You tell it to turn off while making love to Keller. You tell it at least to slow down when you are trying to complete basic tasks such as bill paying or taking a shit. You tell it that you’ve already written about sunsets and that sometimes you just want to watch one all by yourself, without the voice-stream drip-drip-dripping its descriptions on the backdrop of your life. Slowly you convince yourself of the power of memory, sensory details, and the lingering emotional essences of experiences. You begin to understand that you can collect these things throughout the day, like water building behind the damn.

Then you release it all when there is ample time and space. You relive your life and fill it back up with gentleness and bravery like the painter who paints from memory. You go back to the Bob Dylan concert, his voice like a kid choking in a sandbox but still it pulls at you, you leap out of your seat and cry and sing and sweat and drink and dance the night away. You go back to Keller, giving in to the indescribable heat, the sheen if his long brown hair, the tightness of quadriceps, hands on hands, the confidence of a man who spent 293 days of the last year sleeping under the stars (and you tell yourself there will be no falling in love here, not with this one). You go back to bill paying and notice the tightness with which you gripped the pen, callused fingers gripping the plastic as if poised for brain surgery, chestnut-brown soil under your nails from working in the garden, the smell of rain still on your forearms, the inflammation of a bug bit on the back of your shoulder.

Your faith in the world swells like a tsunami. You begin to see wealth everywhere you go. There is richness in poverty, abundance in loss, life behind death. You realize that you have the power to live your life as you choose – and you choose writing.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.