Thursday, July 21, 2011
on being a writer
I haven’t had much time to sit down and really write these last weeks. Between my grandpa dying, a trip up north, a non-writing related freelance project, and limited childcare, I just haven’t had the time to spirit myself off to the coffee shop.
And this bothers me. It makes me feel unmoored, as if there is nothing holding me in place, keeping me from scattering here and there with the details of my life.
It’s interesting, then, that in the last few days, three friends have e-mailed me essays and quotes about being a writer. It’s as if they knew, somehow, that I needed that reminder.
This is the first. It’s an Ira Glass quote from Sally McGraw’s blog Already Pretty. Sally takes the quote and writes a wonderful post about how style evolves. But I love it for what it says to beginning writers:
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
You’ve gotta fight your way through. I love that, and it speaks to something that I often say here and to my students: don’t ever give up. Keep writing. Even when it’s hard. Even when you get rejected. Even when you don’t have time. Take an hour or twenty minutes and sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
The next piece sent to me was a link to M. Molly Backes’ post on how to be a writer. A mother, whose daughter wants to be a writer, asked Molly what she needed to do to help her daughter. The mother was looking for some formula, some camp that would help her daughter realize her dream. I love Molly’s response. And it reminded me, as a mother, how I can best support my daughters’ dreams: love them, support them, and let them see me following my own dreams--working hard, never giving up.
And the last piece, also sent by one of my wonderful former students, was Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent essay, “Trading Stories: Notes from an apprenticeship,” in The New Yorker. I love Lahiri’s stories, so I loved reading about her journey into writing, her determination, the way she found a home at her desk.
Each of these pieces buoys me, and each reminds me that I am, indeed, a writer.
I have cleared my morning today, and will make my way to the coffee shop after I run and after I drop the girls at their 2-day-a-week summer program. And I will sit down and write the piece for my grandpa’s memorial service (which is Saturday). And I will let the words that emerge ground me in my dreams once again.