Monday, July 30, 2012

Pen to Paper

Excerpt from “Visions and Secrets” in Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist:

“I can remember my mom saying years and years ago that I should think about writing, because it might be the one possible use for the sheer amount of things that go on in my mind at any given time.  I wondered if that was true, and hoped for that, and then at a certain point had almost stopped hoping for that, because I had found my place, I thought.  I had found use and stability in another world, a world of people and ideas and teams and meetings, but what I wanted to be, in a dreamy far-off way, was a writer.

“When I think about my child-self, my little girl memories, all that little girl wanted was to be a storyteller, a poet, a person who gathers and arranges words like some people gather and arrange flowers.  Words are the breakdown through which I see all of life, instead of molecules or notes or chords or colors.  Words in even black and white snakes, back and forth across the page, the portals through which a little girl found a big world, and through which, now, a grown-up girl is trying to pass.

 “When I write, I can see things that I can’t otherwise see, and I can feel things that I can’t otherwise feel.  Things make sense, in flashes and glimpses, in me and around me.  They unravel themselves and line up into black and white rows, and those rows nourish me, sliding down my throat like noodles.”

Last week, I talked to my BFF Melissa on the phone.  Throughout our growing-up years, Melissa and I both wanted to grow up to be writers.  We spent endless summer days scribbling down story ideas on lined paper.  We created entire fantasy worlds for our stories.  She was always my go-to editor and sounding board for story ideas.  We wrote angsty poetry.  We laughed hysterically over the adventures that we created for our most beloved (and comic) characters, Vink and Vonk Voorheis.  We handwrote our stories and then typed them up on my family's old Macintosh computer.  In high school, she read endless iterations of my story about a character named Caitlin McDowell, which I was sure would become my first great novel.

And then we headed off to college.  I started a double-major in English and journalism, and my assignments for all those courses pretty much killed my love of writing.  During my senior year at Butler, I took a creative writing course in which the professor had us write in a journal every day, first for 10 minutes, then working up to 30.  He said that the most reliable way to become a writer was to practice writing, every day.  I used to struggle mightily to write in that journal.  I felt like I never had 10 free minutes, and even when I did, I never knew what to write about.

Aside from the stories I wrote for that course, I haven't really done any creative writing since high school.  This means that my dreams of becoming a famous novelist have pretty much gone by the wayside.  About a year ago, I did dig through an old filing cabinet and reread the unfinished epic of Caitlin McDowell (and laughed at all the 1990s references that it included--such as her stylishly colored scrunchies).  Also last year, I wrote and published my first book, God Can.... not a piece of fiction, but the stories of various members of my fathers' church, written in conjunction with the pastor, Calvin Rychener, and my dad.  We self-published the book, and you can now purchase a copy of it online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Writing the various chapters of that book reminded me of how much I love to write.  I love losing myself in deciding just the right way to structure a sentence, or how to string sentences together to express my thoughts.  I love playing with the words, and I especially love how when I get in the zone, the right words just seem to flow out, and it's all I can do to keep up and get them on the paper.

But since that project ended, I haven't done any writing.  Of course, we published the book mere weeks before I found out that I was pregnant with Aiden, and then various medical problems kept me from feeling much like myself for the next nine months.  But now that I'm feeling more like "me" again, I've been thinking more and more about words.

Last year, my friend Melissa also wrote her first novel.  I was incredibly wowed by her stories of the entire process, with all of her research into the book industry and learning about what it takes to be published.  I believe I currently remain the only reader of her first novel.... but for the record, I thought it was fantastic.  She has now put that project aside and told me last week that she has started working on another story.  She talked about how she feels like right now, she just needs to practice her writing, to get back to the place where she truly loved getting those words down on paper.

That really resonated with me. I miss creating those words.  I miss pouring myself out on paper.  As I turned that conversation with Melissa over and over in my mind, I felt passionately that I wanted to start writing again.  I decided to return to that old college exercise of at least 10 minutes a day, whether I actually had anything to say or not.

Of course, that was a little over a week ago, and I haven't managed to put pen to paper yet.  As I have been sitting and writing this, Shay has interrupted me at least eight times ("Mommy, aren't you done YET??"), Bryn has come in three times to tell me that she needs me, and Ben has gently inquired as to when I will be ready to put the kids to bed.  At this particular moment, Shay is hanging on to my arm and Bryn is standing behind my chair.  So getting back to writing may not be as easy as I would hope.  But I share this with all of you (if anyone out there is still reading?) in the hopes that you will all hold me accountable. 

Excerpt from “Visions and Secrets” in Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist:
"For me, to write is an act of rebellion, an uprising against that part of me that needs to be responsible, helpful, adaptive.  It is one of the first things, maybe the very first thing, that is entirely my own, that doesn't help anyone, doesn't make anyone else's life easier, doesn't facilitate or provide structure or administrative support for anyone else.  I've always been a team player, a utility player, a workhorse, and to do something sheerly out of a deep love for the act itself feels foreign and vaguely scandalous.  It feels, I'm realizing, selfish.

"But little by little, when I start where I'm stuck, over and over and over, getting stuck and unstuck, something cracks through, and life reveals itself to me like a scroll unfurling, and I write about it.  I struggle against myself, and I write about it.  I feel afraid and crazy, and I write about it.  I don't figure out the solution in any tidy way, and I don't have a sharp and clever revelation, but bit by bit, writing is starting to worm its way into the dailiness of my life and is creating a home there.  It is becoming less and less of a strange distant dream and more and more of the actual way I live."


Cathy Willman said...

I'm still reading, I love to hear what you have to say, but my prime hours for reading and writing are 9-midnight, and unfortunately, those are the same hours when my brain is mush. I wish you the best of luck.

Melissa said...

Hooray! I can't wait to read whatever you write. Here's a great idea: we should pick up where we left off in high school and be each other's sounding boards/editors. Seriously! So many times I feel like I just need to flush out an idea with somebody who knows the way my brain works :)

Let's talk soon, and thanks for the vote of confidence in Orpheus. You remain its only reader!!

kristin said...

I have daydreams about invoking "family writing time" as the kids get older. Not that this will deter interruptions; but they might start being about synonyms instead of snacks or diapers or screams. A girl can daydream... ;)

Hope you find your 10 minutes