As you know, things have been quiet when it comes to my writing. Some days it makes my stomach clench so hard, I feel nauseous. I wish I had time to write, but at the moment renovating our old house has to be the priority. I keep trying to hold on to the image of my soon-to-be office, complete with antique fireplace, where I can finally settle in and get back to the thing that makes me happiest. When people ask me how my writing’s going, it feels like I have to admit to a horrible crime. I don’t even like to admit to myself that I haven’t written anything in months, much less to anyone else. It’s not like I’m not writing because I’ve lost inspiration, I just don’t have the time right now.
Today, I made the realization, that although, on the outside, it seems as though I’m not writing, I am actually writing – everyday.
When I first started writing, I read every book I could find on how to write. Most books on writing are little more than those motivational speakers that corporate CEO’s hire to try to increase productivity in their employees. They say things like “just write,” and “anyone with a pen can write.” And then there’s the practical advice like “show don’t tell.” While all of these statements are true, it’s too abstract to someone who has never written before. I remember wondering what the heck “show don’t tell” meant. I had no clue how to do that. Aren’t you supposed to “tell” a story? I didn’t need a cheerleader, I needed a tutor.
Every once in a while, I’d find a small nugget of information that would actually help me. One such nugget was the suggestion that the prospective writer, sit in a room and, in their head, describe their surroundings. Of course I started out with green curtains and beige walls, but that was pretty boring. Over time my descriptions became more detailed and creative until I was trying to describe how the sunlight shining through the window was like a stage light on tiny dust dancers as they pirouetted through the air. It was great practice, and I did it every chance I could.
Driving to work on a foggy day, I’d see the fog as a cold dark creature, clawing at the earth, trying to hold on and fend off the approaching sunrise. I saw the rain as tears washing away the sorrow of loss.
At first I would rush to write down my thoughts, but this broke the spell, and everything that had been on the tip of my tongue one moment, would vanish. Now I realize that Allen Ginsberg’s motto “first thought, best thought” is accurate. The thought is good, but not necessarily the exact words. So now I just let the words flow through my mind. When the time comes that I need to describe fog, or rain in a story, I can think back to that moment and the feelings that the event evoked, and come up with even better words. Perhaps my character would see the fog with a sense of security, as a place to hide from terror, instead of a horrible creature.
It was just this morning, when I was reading a story that brought tears to my eyes, that I realized I still do this without even consciously thinking about it. I was fighting the tears, with that familiar burn in my eyes and lump in my throat. But that’s how everyone describes the feeling of struggling not to cry. So in my mind, I wrote. I wrote what I felt. It took a moment for me to recognize what I was doing. It made me smile. It turns out I never stopped writing after all.