Monday, March 02, 2009

Butt glue

If you wish to be a writer, write. (Epictetus)

Easier said than done, in my small experience. It is so easy to dream of writing, to craft sentences in one's head, to look at a scene and decide what details to include and what details to omit as one drinks a coffee in a cafe.

Easy to scoff at the local paper's writing style, knowing deeply that if I wrote that article, it would be much better.

Easy to read the magazine article and think, "I could do that!"

Much, much harder to sit down with pen, paper, and laptop and put my own words on paper.

The problem is this: for about 20 years, I have identified myself as a writer. I have "known" that it is what I am meant to do. I have read, I have dreamed, and I have decided that it is my destiny to write, and maybe even to write something good. I have internalized the dialogue that says that this is a part of my identity, and I hold it near and dear to my heart. I play the part well, listening to podcasts on writing, reading articles on writing, checking out books on everything under the sun from the library, filling my home with books (every room).

And that means that I have an awful lot tied up into this idea, and that the risk of failure is high. If I write poorly, it doesn't mean that I just didn't write something well, it means that my dream disappears, it means that I don't know who I am, it means that I am a failure.

All because someone might read a paragraph and think "Whatever."

Since my last surgery, I feel that I have a new life - a post-Cancerland life - and I had vowed to myself to work on my writing, and to make it a priority. I was impossibly behind on the Hunts Point book, and it was time to get moving, and to put out or shut up. (What an awful expression.) I decided that the time was NOW. The life I've dreamed of, not the cancer life I suffered through. Now.

How terribly frightening. It made me feel small and insecure. VERY insecure.

My friend Lori writes (hi, Lori) and I asked her the secret to her success with writing. She answered without skipping a beat: Butt glue. Butt glue? Yes. You sit down in your designated writing area, and you don't get up until you're done (with the paragraph, the essay, the chapter....or the allotted time schedule). If you have nothing to say, you stare at your computer screen and think of what you might say. If you get out a word, or ten pages, you just stay there. Eventually, Lori told me, something will happen - you will write out of the desperation to get moving, or out of boredom, or if you're really lucky, out of some true inspiration. And once you start writing, the writing will feed more writing.

So this weekend, I applied butt glue and I sat down. I felt nauseaus, but I did it anyway.

I stared.

I opened up a couple of web sites to browse....and then I shut them down. I checked email, reminded myself not to, and closed Outlook. I pulled up a dreaded white page.

I wrote a paragraph and erased it maybe 25 times.

But finally, some words came. I found myself looking at my thesaurus (I still like my paper one even though I know it's all online). Cutting and pasting, backspacing and typing....

I settled on a draft ready to print, ready to share.

I didn't sleep very well last night for fear that when I shared it, I would be advised to become a plumber, not a writer.

This morning, I nervously drove across the bridge to present my work. I sat in front of my employer wearing my writer clothes: nice jeans, work appropriate heels, a black cashmere sweater, and an eggplant corduroy jacket. I felt like I was donning a costume (all that was missing were the leather elbow patches)....I felt like my boss might see right through me.

He read what I wrote. He got to the paragraph that I struggled with, and I watched him reading, pen in his hand, and I had to use butt glue to keep myself in the room.

And he loved it.

Oh, thank you for small miracles. I am so grateful that I got this response, because maybe I can use it for my next round of butt glue.

I'm a writer!

Today's Monday: writing day. Wish me well - because despite this morning's succcess, I already find myself in need of some butt glue.

PS I can't say "butt glue" in front of Tessa, because "butt" is on the list of words we don't say in our family. If she catches me saying it, I'll owe her a quarter. This is just between you and I - because she doesn't read my blog!

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