How to Break a Date With the Muse

If you must break a date with the muse, it’s best to be upfront about it. First of all tell her that you’re not going to be meeting her at the time you planned to. Give her your reason why.

If you’ve got a lot on your plate, all that time-sensitive grown-up stuff that we all get caught up in now and again. Tell her you’re sorry, but you’ve got all this time-sensitive grown-up stuff to do. Be very clear about this. Look at your calendar and decide when you can see her again, and tell her you’ll meet her at such and such a date. Tell her what you want to work on with her. Write it down in your calendar so you don’t forget.

If you really want a relationship with the muse, you’ve got to be kind of regular. And you’ve got to let her know your patterns, and when you can’t show up. You can be a regular binge kind of creator (you know, a hot passionate weekend with her where you go after each other ridiculously hard), or you can be a regular slow and steady kind of creator (you know, the kind of creator she can depend on). The muse likes both, and finds one just as interesting as the other.

The thing you don’t want to do, is just stand her up. You don’t want to say you’re going to be there, and then not show up. It’s not that you need to worry about the muse getting her feelings hurt. She’s very popular and has tons of people intensely interested in meeting with her, and she always will, so if you don’t show up, she’ll just go somewhere else – no problem.

The problem will be with you though. You’ll feel shame for not showing up, and not doing what you said you would. You might not be able to face her again because of it. You might think she asks too much, although all she wanted was for you to keep the date you made with her. You might even blame the muse. You might dismiss her. “Eh, she’s not so hot. I didn’t want that writing life, that sculpting life, that painting life, that creative life anyway. This time-sensitive grown-up stuff is much, much more interesting and important.”

Yeah, right.

Nobody likes a bullshitter. Least of all the muse. She does like honesty though. If you’ve been gone awhile you may have to prove yourself once more. But it’s not hard to do. Just show up and be uncomfortable. Eat a little dirt. Feel bad. But stay there.

If you think that all this time she was the one not showing up, you’re wrong. The muse doesn’t stand people up. She just likes a little foreplay. Sometimes a lot. A little flirting. She like to tease. It’s a game with her, so don’t be so anxious about it. Don’t be so eager to cross the finish line. Enjoy the agitation. Enjoy the frustration. Don’t think that being a creator is easy and always smooth. It’s not. Maybe just decide you like this lady and would like to hang out more.

But if you have to break a date (and let’s face it, we all do) be clear about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Quitting Social Media

On September 10, 2017, a Sunday, I deleted my Facebook account. I did not do this impulsively. I did it consciously. I even “gave notice”, as if I were leaving a job and wanted to make sure I received a good recommendation.

On the post in which I announced my pending exit, I received over 100 comments in the thread. All were kind and I felt loved. It’s not the first time I’ve felt loved on Facebook. In fact, I’ve felt loved there often and much.

On Facebook I also found content that was difficult to navigate, content I couldn’t digest, stories and pictures that froze my heart, and made me hurt.

But content, good or bad, was never the problem I had with Facebook. I figured that the content on Facebook pretty much reflected the content in life. Some good, some bad, some tough to process, some cotton candy, lots of opinions. Just like life, only more so, because it was hard to close the door on Facebook, for me anyway.

Something was going on in my brain and I knew it. I knew I was in trouble because I could not focus on the book I was trying to write. There’s always self doubt with writing, but this was different. This was more than the question of whether or not I’d be up to the task. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even enter the flow. My mind was fractured and splintered, my spirit in constant agitation. I felt like I was failing at everything.

I googled “effects of social media.” I found an article that said social media can make you spend too much money. Another that said social media can make you overeat. A third that said social media made a person unable to think for herself. None of these described at all what I was feeling. Then I found a TED talk by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. He said, using the same words I was using to describe to myself what I was feeling, that social media fractures the mind. He said that in order to work deeply, we need to reclaim our minds. I wrote a quote in my journal. “Respect your attention.”

I wanted to work deeply again; I wanted the feeling I’d had when I first began seriously writing, a feeling of sacredness, a feeling that I was working with the spirits of my characters and them with me, a feeling that something larger than my own little self was present.

In those days, when I was writing Life Without Water there was no email and no Facebook. There was not even the web. My computer’s reason for existing in my life was to aid me in writing. That was all it did, and because that was all it did and because it did it well, it took on the energy of a beloved tool. After the internet entered our lives and became the thing we do everything on, after social media, after I became not just a writer but also a “brand” (although I don’t think I ever actually achieved becoming a brand, probably because the idea was so abhorrent to me) my computer no longer felt sacred. It felt jumbled and trafficked, like a highway dotted with road kill. I wanted that sacredness back.

I’m not saying my art is so great that it’s holy. I am saying the relationship I have to my art is holy, and that relationship was being eroded. I found myself incapable of ignoring Facebook (social media sites are designed to be addictive) and I felt that the only thing I could do was delete my account.

Well-meaning people told me I was making a huge mistake. I may not have built a brand, but I had built a following. A lot of people knew me because of Facebook. A lot of those people are here, reading this blog now. As a writer, I’m supposed to do a hogshead of self promotion every day. I’m also supposed to write books. I couldn’t do both. Perhaps some can, I can’t. Perhaps it’s a personal failing on my part. Perhaps I’m just weird and unable to perform in the ways expected of me. But this is who I am. I write books exactly because I am weird and unable to perform in the ways expected of me. That’s how I became a writer.

Posted in comfort, Completing a novel, creativity, Day by day, Decisions, Energy, failure, fiction, marketing, Pain, Passion, Philosophy, silence, Social Media, spaciousness, spirit, Starting a new work, Stillness, Story, survival, The market, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Myth of the Published Writer

When you disclose to a stranger that you’re a writer, the first question you will be asked is, “Are you published?” It feels good to say yes, to have a small list you can name off as validation of your claim to be a member of that rarefied club. Before I became a published writer, I longed for this moment. I believed it would prevent people from seeing me as a fraud. I believed it would prevent me from seeing myself as a fraud.

But it didn’t.

It’s true that the little clump of people at the cocktail party might be less inclined to drift away from me, but I found out that the interrogation had only just begun.

Next up:

“I haven’t heard of that book.”

“Well, you have now.”

“What genre is it?”

“Literary fiction.” I hate this question. Literary fiction sounds so lame in the face of this moment. So hoyty-toyty. So, “I don’t know how to define what I do, therefore I don’t know what I’m doing.” (The last is true. But writing is about muddling forward, and how can that be explained to anyone who doesn’t write? At a cocktail party, no less?)

“How many copies did it sell?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Asked incredulously. “Surely you know your own book sales.”

At the risk of sounding rude and ungrateful for being a published writer, I don’t answer at all. My books sales have never supported me. I’ve always had a day job. I’ve made peace with that, again and again and again. I wonder if I were a surgeon, would I be asked how many people died on my table. This question feels like that. “You may be a writer, but…”

The next comment: “You should write an Oprah book.”

I don’t say that I already did, but Oprah failed to notice.

“You know – insert name of celebrity – wrote a book.”

“Yes, I know.”

“It did really well.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Months on the bestseller list.”

Silence from me.

“I’ve got three weeks off next summer and I’m thinking of writing a novel. I think I can get it done in that time. How long did it take you?”

“Two years.”

“Two years! Really? Why did it take so long?”

“Excuse me, I have to go pee.” I don’t even care that I said the word pee at a social gathering. I’m just thinking about the comfort of the bathroom stall, and the closed door, and wondering if I can take as long to pee as I took to write my last book.

The point is that the opportunities to prove you’re a “real writer” never end. It seems that someone (usually a total stranger) is always ready to challenge your claim, or to make you feel smaller for it. If you’re not published, you should be published. If you’re not a best selling author, you should be a best selling author. If your book isn’t genre fiction, you should try genre fiction. If Oprah hasn’t noticed your book, you should write an Oprah book. You should have a youtube channel, a Twitter account, followers, a hoard of people who know who you are, and so on. Listening to someone tell you they’re going to write a novel during their three-week vacation, rubs salt in the open wounds of being one the millions of midlist writers out there. Most of us, in fact, are midlist. Perhaps we take too long to write. Here is a person who can do what it took me two years to do, in a whole lot less time, while eating ice cream and skiing.

What I want to say to writers, all writers, is that it’s a deep journey. You have to measure yourself by a yardstick that doesn’t exist in the commercial world. You can write a deep book, and it can be a best seller. You can also write a deep book and no one will notice. Take heart. Find a gauge of success that is your own. Most of us wanted to write long before we did write. Writing itself, bringing a work to completion is huge success. It’s a huge success that will mostly go unnoticed unless you happen to hit the jackpot with a best seller, and that too is a long arduous road. So always (ALWAYS) love yourself. And admire that you are writing. And as much as possible, divorce yourself from the world of capitalism, which cares not for art unless it sells. Most of your writing, arty life will be spent in capitalism’s shadows, and in order to be strong throughout the journey, you must respect who you are and what you’re doing. You must respect the risk.

For now there will be celebrity authors whose books will be read while ours are not, simply because this is the culture we live in. Total strangers will throw this in your face because total strangers have no idea what sort of gestalt work goes into the creation of a story, and because the work of writing is not respected in this culture. Only the work of publishing matters, and if there is publishing, there must be book sales, and if there are too few book sales, there must be a marketing plan, and if there is no marketing plan, then you, the author have failed.

But you have not failed. I have not failed.

I think the next time someone asks me if I am published, I am going to answer no. It’s an honest answer. I am unpublished. Most of my work is unpublished. Most of it will remain unpublished. We’re all unpublished together. That’s the club. Respect the real club, not the imagined one.

Posted in Advice, Comparison, Competition, Completing a novel, Consumerism, creativity, Elitism, failure, marketing, Process, Public appearances, Self-worth, Society, Strength, success, survival, The market, Uncategorized, what artists need, Writing career | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Is Writing Revolutionary?

I have a button that says, “Writing is revolutionary.” I wear it to remind myself of this truth. Art is a very difficult thing to believe in these days. Even though I insist on writing, I often wonder, given the state of the world and particularly the country I live in, am I just hiding behind my art? Am I, as artists have so often been accused of being, simply egotistical, self-serving, and shallow for wanting to continue what I started when I was in fourth grade?

Of course, in all that time there were years that I didn’t write. There were many years during which I berated myself for not having “discipline.” Also years during which I stabbed at it, and looked at my work and thought, “But it’s not real writing.” It was as difficult then as it is now to believe that art matters.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Art always has be clawed out of some sort of life. The messages don’t change, or they haven’t changed in my life time.

A few of the messages I have heard during the span of my writing life:
Don’t quit your day job.
You simply must read Proust.
You must subscribe to the New Yorker
You must get an MFA
You must teach in a college
You must travel
You must have a platform
You must have a brand
You must have something important to say
And so on.

There is a tremendous amount of advice on how to be an artist. Some of it actually comes from artists, which blows my mind.

It isn’t until an artist reaches some sort of national recognition that he or she is given carte blanche permission to simply be an artist. Then the artist is granted that she might have known what she was doing all along. This too is a blow against art, because we usually don’t know what we’re doing. We just do it anyway.

I honestly don’t know if any of this is a bad thing or a good thing. It doesn’t hurt to have to work against the grain, against all that society tells you you must do. It doesn’t hurt to insist on creating something that is, to others’ eyes, frivolous and selfish. It makes you stronger. It makes you fiercer. It can make your art deeper. It can certainly deepen your relationship to it. And it can serve you well in times like these, when America seems to be one big street brawl, from the presidency on down.

It’s helpful to wear my Writing is Revolutionary button, simply to remind myself that there was a time when even just the act of taking time for myself, and clearing the psychic space for writing was a huge revolution. It may have been a personal revolution, but as Gloria Steinem has said, “The personal is political.”

It has never been easy to say to certain people and certain things, “No, I will not serve you.” And then to say to my writing and my characters, “Yes, I will serve you.” Not everyone, including writing and characters, has always been completely cooperative with me and my goals and needs. I still have to make these same decisions. I still have to turn away from some things in order to turn toward my work as a writer. My work might not matter to the larger world, and I have to live with that. Every day, with every word put on paper, there is the possibility of obscurity. I have to make peace with that.

Art is a gamble. Art is a crap shoot. Art is betting on the horse with the lame leg ridden by the 300 pound jockey. Always has been, always will be.

Posted in Advice, creativity | 4 Comments

The Shame I Feel

I’m stupid. I’m inadequate. I am a failure.

This is what I grew up believing about myself, and there was no place that proved these points more often, more relentlessly, and more consistently than school. All day long, five days a week I was shown what a poor performer I was.

“Does not apply herself.”

“F in effort.”


“Does not engage socially enough.”

I know now that throughout my childhood I was in survival mode. It was the only mode I knew. Get through the week, enjoy the weekend, go back. I also believe now that I have an undiagnosed learning disorder. ADD or ADHD.

The symptoms I’ve read about fit. Overwhelm at too much stimulation. Distracted by outside noise. A need for specific directions when traveling. A need for solitude and quiet. An inability to multi-task. Daydreaming.

I’ve taken some of the online tests and results come back mixed. But the questions are crummy and one dimensional. For instance: “Do you have trouble focusing?”

I’ve written three novels and one memoir, all of which required intense focus. They each took years to write, and tons of research and an ability to pull threads and information from different sources to use or support story.

But can I sit in a meeting and listen to someone drone on about statistics and power points? No. Do I lose focus in such a setting? I never had it, just as I could never attain it in school.

I could learn what I was interested in – reading, stories, diagramming sentences. But science? Math? History, which was basically just an advertisement for the patriarchy? No. I couldn’t focus on these things. They ran through my brain the way water runs through a bladder.

I suppose I was fortunate that at the time I was going to school, there were no diagnostic tests for ADD. ADD wasn’t even named yet. And because of that I was never given drugs to “correct” my “disorder.” I maintained as best I could. I graduated from high school and pursued no further institutionalized education. I started working odd jobs. I learned immensely from these jobs, and from the people I worked beside. And after a time, when I realized writing doesn’t do itself, I applied myself to producing a novel. And when that was published I wrote another, followed by a memoir and another novel recently published, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.

But what I’ve come to realize lately, and what made me cry recently, was the understanding that publishing a book slams my face right into the wall of my “disorder.” Suddenly the things that kept me focused while writing no longer apply to the task of publishing and promoting. I am back in veritable school again.

And this makes me sad. The thing I have loved all my life, telling stories and writing, the thing I have made great sacrifices to pursue ends up, if I publish, asking more of me than I can give, or more than I can give while maintaining the things I need to write more stories.

To write a novel, my attention cannot be fractured into a million different directions. Politics, panic, tracking sales, researching blogs and seeking reviews for the book just published, traveling, socializing and mingling too much, chatter, TV, too much social media, too many voices, etc., are all things that send my mind skittering, and then drying up, like water thrown on a hot skillet. Writing a novel requires a focus like none other.

At the point where a book is published a lot is asked of an author. I can manage the details to a point, but then I cave, and the reason I cave is not because I am stupid, and not because I am inadequate, and not because I am a failure, but because I am me.

It is ironic that at the time when I should most feel like a success, when my book is being published, I am pushed into the place where I feel the least adequate, where I feel stupid, where I feel like a failure simply because of my inability to function in a system that overwhelms me.

Yes, I had a good cry yesterday when I came to realize this. I cried for the adult me who struggled yesterday with the timeline of the new book while also struggling with trying to understand how to contact bloggers and ask them to review the previous book. I cried because I recognized this as shame. A feeling I have carried since childhood over my inability to make sense of the adult world. Being an adult has not helped me make any more sense of it.

But, it’s good to know this irony. This shame. It’s good to recognize it for what it is, and get help. And by help I don’t mean that I’ll be going to a doctor and getting drugs. Screw that. There’s really nothing wrong with me except that I find society a difficult task master, which I tend to believe is a sign of mental health.

The help I will be getting will be to hire out some tasks, as many as I can afford, so I can do the thing I can’t hire out – writing.

Posted in Book tour, Completing a novel, creativity, Day by day, Decisions, depression, economics, education, emotion, Energy, failure, fiction, History, Listening, Magic, Maintenance, marketing, Pain, Play, privacy, Process, Public appearances, Publishing, research, silence, Society, spaciousness, spirit, Starting a new work, Stillness, Story, Strength, success, survival, The market, the world, Uncategorized, Visibilty, what artists need | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Making Art in the Age of Trump

Writing takes spaciousness. It requires managing time and psychic space. It requires holding part of yourself away from things: reality, jobs, bills, money, even marriage and partnership and family. It requires keeping a large part of your heart and mind cleared of daily clutter.

This is true no matter what most of the world is paying attention to. This is true whether the Democrats are running things or the Republicans. This is true whether Obama is in office or Trump.

A writer, an artist, all artists have to disengage from the dominant culture in order to engage with their work.

But how do we give ourselves permission to disengage when there is new information to process every day, and it comes at us fast and furious, and it’s wild and unmanageable? In an environment where the nation is no longer arguing politics, but is instead arguing values, it can seem extremely self indulgent to value art, especially our own. In times like these art can seem unnecessary. Art can seem quaint. Art can seem extinct. An ancient fossil left in a rock. A shadow of that thing I used to do.

Trump’s election to president threw me into a state I’d never been in before. My dreams were riddled with darkness and gloom. Three days before he was inaugurated my fourth book was published.

I suppose I was lucky to have the focus of promoting my book during the first two weeks of his presidency. I could not respond or react to what was going on because I had something to do that was intense and important and required of me. I trotted around giving the readings my publicist had scheduled. The reading I gave on the Saturday after the inauguration, the day of the Women’s March in Washington, was attended by a scant audience. It is never easy to garner attention for a book, but it seemed especially futile this time around. The political climate sucked the air out of everything.

Publishing a book is often a sort of black hole. An author throws her energy there and hopes to be able to write again after the initial wave of attention is over. Writing is not a black hole for me. Writing, without thought of publishing, without thought of the outside world, without thought of how this story is going to be received, is an intimate, nurturing relationship. It is not so easy to enter back into it after a book tour, even a small one, but it was especially difficult this time. Is it right to enter into solitude, deep conversations with “imaginary” beings, intense research, silence and dreams and holding things close to my vest when every minute feels as though there is something I should be doing to save the world?

I sank into depression. Depression is not my go-to place. It’s not a place I can work from, although I tried. The depression was like quicksand. It slowly sucked me down until my eyes were filmed and gritty, and I couldn’t breathe.

I am just one person. Just one writer. Just one tiny speck of an artist who has worked for years to build the life I have. For income, I teach writing in my studio. Although I have hours to keep, I also have flexibility. Flexibility is wonderful, but it can also be a slippery slope.

I know what it is to flex myself away from my writing. In the past I have over socialized, overslept, overeaten, over given of myself, and spent too much time on social media.

And now the situation calls for activism and close observance and vigilance.

I hope I can step up. I hope I do not fail. I hope we do not fail. But I also recognize that I had better hang on to my life. I had better remain present for my students, and for my own writing. I had better step up to this game of writing. I had better pull myself out of the quicksand of depression and instead sink deeply into the work of writing. I had better engage with my fictional world, and be the writer it requires, for if I don’t and we win this fight against chaos and insanity, I will have lost what I am fighting for. I had better not lose what I hold dear.

This has always been the way of the artist. We have always had to scratch out space and time. We have always had to prioritize. We have always had to be fierce. And now we must fiercely protect what is dear to us, and what is dear to me is far larger than I ever imagined, and it is not just my art.


Posted in Book tour, comfort, Community; Genorosity, Completing a novel, creativity, Day by day, Decisions, depression, economics, emotion, Energy, failure, fiction, Grief, Listening, marketing, privacy, Process, Public appearances, Publishing, research, silence, Society, spaciousness, Starting a new work, Stillness, Story, Strength, survival, Uncategorized, Visibilty, what artists need | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Relearning Stillness

For two months I have been on the move within a twelve mile radius. I was forced to leave my beloved studio (dubbed the treehouse) where I have worked and taught my classes for ten years. There was a lot of stress in finding a place as charming and serviceable as the treehouse has been, and a lot of cleaning out and clearing out and purging and moving to do. And now it is done. Now I can stay still. Or can I?

I find that after any intense period of being on the go, I have trouble being still again. I am restless. I wake up in the middle of the night sure that I’ve forgotten some crucial detail. I have trouble concentrating enough to read a book. I can’t think of how to cook anymore, because I lack the psychic space it takes to organize ingredients. I determine to sit on the couch and do nothing, but it feels as though a bolt of lightning will strike me for such a sin. In short, I have to relearn stillness.

I have to remind myself that I am coming down off something, down off stress, down off movement, down off intensity, and it is like coming off a drug. In America the drug of busyness is a part of our culture. We’re encouraged to be busy. We’re rewarded for it. So, I must relearn stillness while living in a soup of cultural busyness.

The first step I take is awareness. I admit out loud that I have had a ton of stuff to do, and that while I got it done, I also lost my way a bit in the throes of doing. I have been on a long journey. Like Frodo in The Hobbit, things don’t quite feel the same when the journey ends, even though it ends in my kitchen.

The second step is taking a day without placing any sort of demands on myself. I do not try to get anything done in this day. I might dabble in something, but I have no goals. I might read, but the goal is not reading. I might so a little scribbling, but the goal is not writing. I might take a walk, but the goal is not walking. This is a day of zero goals. I let the day unfold. If something feels difficult I don’t do it.

The next day, I take deep breaths and carry on. It helps if I can find pockets of stillness in this day. It helps if I don’t have to dive back into intensity. It helps if I can remember what I was doing before life got so damn busy and try to ease back into that.

Writing a book? Oh, yes. What scene was I on? Who are the characters again? What was the work saying to me when I had to stop listening and attend to moving?

It’s scary to step back into the fictional world. I’m afraid my characters won’t talk with me. I’m afraid the thread has been dropped and lost. I’ve not been a fiction writer for nearly two months now, not one that was writing anyway. Do I still know how?

This fear is real. Reentry is hard. If you’ve dropped your writing for whatever reason, then know that you sit where I sit now. Somehow I have to reenter. And so do you if you want to bring the project to fruition. So take my hand. Let’s wade in together. I’ll work on mine and you work on yours and we’ll know each other is there.

Posted in comfort, Day by day, emotion, Energy, fiction, Listening, Maintenance, Process, procrastination, silence, Starting Again, Stillness, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soothing the Reader

There is something important to remember and that is that the reader wants you to succeed. The reader of a novel wants nothing more than to forget she is reading. She wants to fall into your fictional world so deeply that it exists as real and fully formed as the world she actually lives in. She wants to experience your character’s emotions. She wants to be transported into story. She wants to close the book when it is over and be haunted by what she has just read. And let’s face it, you want this too.

You may have read that you should never give your reader an opportunity to stop reading, and this advice might be confusing to you. Of course your reader will stop reading. She, like everyone, has a life to attend to. You cannot control that. You cannot pick up her children from school or attend a business meeting for her. Your reader will stop reading, but this is not the same as wanting to stop reading. Nor is it the same as stopping reading because some information has been left out of the narrative and the reader has to stop, even briefly and unconsciously, to supply that missing bit. Put simply your job is to soothe the reader, to massage her mind into receptivity, and you do this by never missing a beat.

Writing is detail work. Writing is organization.

If it rains in your book, then things must be wet. There cannot be pockets of wetness and pockets of dryness, unless there is something allowing the dryness, such as shelter, or a canopy of trees. If the character dishes soup out, there must be a receptacle for that soup – a bowl or a cup. If someone’s eyes are blue on page ten, then they must also be blue on page fifty.

This sounds tedious, and nitpicking, as though I am splitting hairs. I am not splitting hairs. I am telling you that these things matter. Readers are savvy. Of course they can, in their mind, supply a bowl for that soup, but why ask them to do that? Why leave out anything that causes the reader to stop and say to herself, “There must be a bowl.” If you leave enough tiny details out like this, you create a choppy ride for the reader. You create less chance for her to fall into your fictional world, the world she wants to fall into. It’s your job to soothe the reader into a trance.

Posted in Advice, comfort, Completing a novel, creativity, critique, Decisions, Drafts, emotion, failure, fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Years ago, when I first started teaching, a woman signed up for my class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in the N.C. mountains because her doctor had told her that if she didn’t do something for herself soon, she’d die. She wasn’t looking for a writing class. She didn’t think of writing at all. She was just looking to do something for herself, doctor’s orders, and she ended up in my group.

In this class we just wrote, and read back to each other, and received each others’ writing by recalling what we liked. As the week went on, we formed a community, and we became important to each other, and we all found out more about this woman. Her alcoholic husband. Her demanding adult children. The dishes in the sink and the laundry on the floor. A smack across the face. She wrote the scenes of her life that week. Through writing from prompts these scenes spooled from her pen and stitched themselves into her story. It may have been the first time she ever told her story, even to herself. Stories are often pattern, and now she could look at the pattern of her own life without the distractions of daily dust-ups of drama her situation kept her in.

She went home after that week and left her husband. She rented a small apartment and lived alone. She wrote me a few times about how peaceful it was. She thanked me. What had I done? Had I broken up a marriage? No, of course not. I’d only held space for a person to hear her own thoughts.

In the burning times, this might be considered the work of a witch. Powerful women, smart women, women with property, women who healed others with herbs and deep knowledge, women who were not married, women who lived outside the “norm” were called witch. But the accusation of witch wasn’t just assumed to be correct. Women were tested for being a witch by various means. Some women were put in a chair and dunked in water. If she was a witch, she wouldn’t drown. Or a woman was needled, her skin pricked and pricked and pricked, because somewhere on a witch was a place she would not bleed. And if she bled, which she did, she was not a witch.

Funny how the tests for a witch always leave a woman dead. Funny too, how this woman was told she was at death’s door if she didn’t do something for herself. Was that doctor a witch too?

The burning times, that I did not live through, and that seem horrific and unrepeatable, are very much on my mind these days, as is the alchemy of writing. I’ve witnessed that alchemy again and again, women and men coming back to themselves, hearing themselves, hearing each other, becoming stronger. I’ve seen the tough and guarded made vulnerable. I’ve seen the meek and voiceless start to speak up for themselves. I’ve seen barriers break down and humanity show through.

And if this is the work of witch then I accept it. Even in these burning times.

Posted in creativity, depression, emotion, Energy, Magic, Process, Prompts, Self-worth, soul, spirit, Story, survival, Telling our stories, Transformation, Uncategorized, Visibilty, voice, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walls, Doors and Windows

I am thinking about walls, doors and windows, and the rooms that many writers feel they are kept out of. The feeling is real. I have a lot of experience with walls, doors and windows. Besides the fact that I spent a good deal of my writing and publishing life cleaning these things, as well as toilets and bathtubs and carpets and kitchens, I have also felt closed out of the ruckus that is writing.

The ruckus I am talking about is the world of visibility. It can seem like there are writers who are very visible who are ignoring the writers who are not. It can feel like a club you’re not let into. It can feel like standing outside a house and looking at a grand party going on inside while knocking on the doors, the walls, the windows and never gaining entry.

I have experienced some real bullshit in the writing world. It’s there. I used to complain and whine a great deal about it. I was sure that I was deliberately being kept out of the greatest party on earth. The truth is, this feeling of being left out came from my own feelings of inadequacy.

Here are some of the myths I had to dismantle:

Myth Number One: The greatest party on earth. Like every party, there are some wonderful people here and some real assholes, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference. But you can believe this: everyone in the house worked their asses off to get here. And if you’re working your ass off too, and feel like you’re not being invited in, let me suggest that the greatest party on earth is really just a lot of sub-parties. Chances are you’re already in and don’t know it.

Myth Number Two: Once invited into the greatest party on earth, you’re always in. This is simply not true. You never know when this magic thing called writing is going to kiss you goodbye. A hot shot writer today might never publish another book. Or the next book might be a terrible flop. Or the whole desire and drive to write might just leave you, and you decide you’d rather be a serial killer than write another word. And then you’d only be invited in as someone’s character (we hope). Again – writing is hard work.

Myth Number Three: Once I am a celebrity life will be easy and I will be respected. Not true. Re. the respect, you’ll never be respected if you don’t respect yourself, and that relates to not worrying about being kept out of the party and just doing your work, which is hard. Writing is hard. But, besides writing being hard work, you know what else is hard work? It’s hard work to have and maintain a public life. It takes a lot of juice to remain visible, to give to the public the best you can think of to give, and to receive from the public both love and criticism. It’s very difficult to do this, and retain the spaciousness and silence to research and write deeply on the next work. All this stuff takes time, but also soul and energy. Sometimes, a person with a public life just needs time and space to herself. Sometimes, a person with a public life must disengage or never write again. And sometimes a person with a public life disengages by degrees. Do not assume it’s personal.

And Then There’s This Truth- I’ve found that talking about the walls only makes the walls thicker. The more closed doors I see, the more closed doors there are. Forget about the hierarchy, which is both real and not real. The less I think about not being in the company of the giants, the more I become a giant in my own world, and the easier it is to see my place in this party called writing, and the more I understand that while we all differ in where we are in the party, we are all important. We’re all cells in an organism. Who’s to say which cell is more important? Who’s to say that someone isn’t struggling, just because we have different struggles? Who’s to say that some struggles are better than others?

Just relax. Writing is hard enough without worrying about whether one belongs or does not belong to a particular club. And believe me every writer has felt invisible at some point. If he or she hasn’t felt invisible, I doubt he or she would be writing.

Posted in Advice, class, Community; Genorosity, Comparison, Competition, creativity, economics, Elitism, emotion, Energy, failure, Gratitude, happiness, Magic, Maintenance, privacy, Process, Public appearances, research, Self-worth, silence, soul, spaciousness, spirit, success, survival, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Visibilty, work, Writing career | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments