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Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!
Welcome to our fifth and final installment of Monday motivation! This is a one-month interlude of motivational fun, as I’ve been doing some traveling and unable to write the regular bi-weekly news column. Enjoy! Regular Lit Mag News news roundups will resume on August 7th.)
A large part of creative writing is making decisions. Once you commit to a project and know that you will not and cannot back out of it no matter what, it becomes much easier to make those decisions. You are there because you want to be and because you have to be.
Now all you have to do is figure out how to make it work.
Writing is a faith-based practice. Faith in the future. Faith in your own instincts and intuitions. Faith in the idea that what you think and what you observe, what you feel and what you know, what you want, what you perceive—it matters.
One day, hopefully, it will matter to someone else.
Right now, all that is important is that it matters to you.
Most craft books address, in one way or another, the question of how.
“How do I…?”
There’s really one main answer to this question.
I had a yoga teacher once who said in the middle of class, If I didn’t have this yoga practice I would be in jail.
She added, If any of you have an ex-husband, you know exactly what I mean.
I don’t have an ex-husband. But I know exactly what she means.
For many of us, if we didn’t have writing in our lives, we’d be…well, somewhere else.
When I was a kid, full of Big Feelings, my mom didn’t always have answers for me. This was even more true when I was a teenager. She had no idea what to say about some things.
But, she always had one piece of advice.
It turned out to be the best advice possible.
She told me, Write it down.
We can’t know what will happen with our work.
We don’t know if we will finish our projects. If we finish, we don’t know if they will be accepted for publication. If they’re accepted for publication, we don’t know how people will respond. If people respond well, we don’t know if they’ll share our work and spread the word. If they spread the word, we don’t know…
We don’t know…
We don’t know…
There is so much we don’t know.
We do it anyway.
My dad was the one who taught me about craft. He used to listen to me read short stories in high school. I sometimes got so frustrated. He was an English teacher for forty years. He would critique my stories as if I was about to read to the Nobel committee.
When I got irritated, he would just sigh and say, “Writing is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
He was always tough on my work.
He was also the first person who gave me permission to take it seriously.
Sometimes the decision-making is the hardest part. What genre? What form? Whose story? Which plot twist? What ending?
And the panic: What if I choose the wrong thing?
Really, though, it’s all trial and error. If you choose the wrong thing, you can always choose something else the next day, or next month.
That’s why God put erasers on pencils.
If your question is, “How…?”
…and you’ve been reading, writing, editing, listening, learning, working hard, then honestly you probably already know the answer.
Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.
It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.
But if you keep working, eventually something will click.
What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?
Who knows. But something opens up.
Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.
They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family.
Many of us feel we need permission to be writers. Permission to write at all.
It’s natural to feel that way.
If this is you, know that it is good for you to write. Great, even.
Here is permission.
There are no short-cuts.
I’ve looked for them everywhere.
If there were short-cuts I would be the first to know about them. I’ve scoured the planet for them all. I’ve especially sought them out in New York City, where such things tend to congregate.
Really. You have to believe me. I’ve looked everywhere for easy ways out, easy ways up, easy ways…anywhere.
There are no short-cuts. They don’t exist. Not even in Brooklyn.
Speaking of my dad, years ago he was doing online dating. He met a woman and they went out for dinner.
The woman, it turned out, was the sister of Cormac McCarthy.
She said that McCarthy had many, many projects that he had put aside, works unfinished, works in the drawer.
She told my dad that, in spite of all that he had accomplished, in spite of all that he had created, her brother remained haunted.
He was haunted by all that the work he had yet left undone.
Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.
In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.
Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.
It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.
The answer to “How…?”
Now go forth, you astounding beings.
Everything you need is already here.
The time is yours.
Go on and write your beautiful hearts out.
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