Bare List on Writing Through the Struggle

I’ve started this blog 17 different times because I cannot find the words to accurately express the heartbreak today has wreaked on my psyche. While it’s not the most devastating of days I’ve ever survived, it’s been a struggle. Not in the “oh hell it’s Monday” way but in the “oh hell, how am I possibly going to handle my life” way. Between scheduling meetings, working, and hauling the kids to school, I’ve had to make time to have a long and emotional conversation about blending families and holidays. Literally, I found myself in tears three times before 9 a.m.

By the time I sat down at my computer to write, I felt defeated. I was robbed of my inspiration and my anxiety made it hard to even sit still. I was at a pinnacle moment of my Nano novel, a piece that’s been nagging at my peripheral for months, begging for attention and demanding to be heard. I am so excited about this work and this scene is crucial. I looked at the words from last night on the screen and felt like there was no way I could do the story justice today. I wasn’t good enough. Everything I could say today would be worthless anyway and I have so much going on. Did I even have a right to be writing? Thanksgiving is upon us, it’s a short work week and clients want to check-in before they depart for the holidays. My family’s scheduling was a nightmare, I have checks to various charities waiting to be written. The kids have activities. The family calendar hanging to my right hasn’t been updated since SEPTEMBER. There’s laundry to do, decorations to put up, the list goes on. Why should I even be writing?  I’m failing at everything else, why not just fail at writing, too? I mean, I’m going to anyway. I don’t have what it takes to live up to this moment. Not now.

I thought about it. I thought about packing it up and letting today go. “You’ll have time later. You’ll feel better later,” I tried to lie to myself, but I knew neither was true. I’m not going to get any less busy, at least not anytime soon. So, I took a deep breath and I wrote. I struggled through the words, tears leaking from my eyes at the emotional torment of the early day as well as my story. I wrote until I had to stop for an emotional phone call and then I wrote again as soon as the business was handled. I wrote as the word count slowly ticked up-50, 100, 150. I wrote as I fought to piece together the scene the way I knew it deserved to be done. I wrote though I cried, I wrote though I doubted myself, and then…I wrote because I was in the scene.

Without realizing it, my writing switched from pain to purpose. The words came easily and as my stomach ached with hunger, I realized that I had written without pause, without thought of anything outside of myself or the story for almost two hours. Almost 2,500 words had escaped my fingers and I had only fought for maybe 500 of them. It’s not the most I’ve ever gotten through in a sitting. I’ve certainly seen more impressive counts from a host of fellow writers and Nanoers, but it was a count I didn’t believe I could reach when I sat down. It was an achievement my evil inner critic had berated me into thinking was unfathomable.

I share this with you, not because of the pride I feel, but because I know that we all have that doubt. Life throws a lot at us, more than we can ever hope to manage, and it’s so easy to start listening to our fears, depression, and anxiety. Writing can so often be the easiest thing to neglect when those negative thoughts invade our brains because we believe that there has to be this perfect mix of inspiration and desire to do our stories justice. I’m here to tell you, that is untrue. I wrote today, despite the fact I didn’t want to. Despite the fact I felt like I had nothing to offer, I gave myself over to my work because I know that the long term pride I will experience completing this outweighed the short term pit of yuck that I was experiencing. Bonus: I feel better. Maybe I am failing at everything else, but at least I won at writing, and that’s a start. It’s forward motion.

So, friends. Today, or any day, that you’re struggling, I hope you remember that you can write through it. Though it seems impossible, just get to the computer, grab a pen and paper, whatever. Just start writing. Just keep writing. I promise, it will get better.

P.S. I’m not actually failing at everything, my inner voice is just a real f*ckhead sometimes.

Have you been in the struggle? I will grab a drink a settle in to struggle with you.

Bare List on Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List on Blankness

As the icy rain poured down over the back porch I took a deep swig of my dark roast coffee, it’s steam warming my face against the chill of the early morning and thought “This is a day God made for writing.” I opened my latest project full of quiet excitement for what this scenic day would bring. Those words that raced from my fingers days ago, that sparked awe and admiration as I pondered them in the dreary morning hour, now lay lifeless on the page. Where do they want to go? How can they have paved a path so clearly and now I can’t sense their direction?

Call it what you will: writer’s block, creative impasse, brain strike. It’s all blankness. An inability to coerce the story you know needs to be told to come to life on the pages in front of you. Everyone who’s picked up a pen or sat down at a desk knows the pain, the panic of reaching inside yourself and coming up blank. It’s a harrowing experience to have all of the right materials and none of the words, but what can I do?

I can write. I can force my fingers across the keyboard pounding out ideas I have no intention on keeping until I stumble across something that clicks. I can trust that the movement of my fingers will eventually rattle awake my sleeping brain and my creative mind will swoop in and takeover where my fingers have failed me, and so I do.

I write in the hopes that today will be more than it seems right now. I write trusting that I can do this, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Does it work? Not always. There are days I struggle for hours only to destroy everything because I never found my way, but there are days that I persist long enough that something beautiful happens. There are days I see myself over the struggle and on those days I am more proud of myself, my stamina than on any day when the words flow easily and effortlessly. It is for those days I write. Because I have to. Because whatever well-meaning outsiders may tell you, you will not tear down that blockade by forgetting about it. You will not break through that wall by trying to pretend it does not exist. No, the only way to keep writing is to start writing.

For those reasons, today I write. Though my mind is blank and my inspiration is lacking, today I write, and so should you.

Bare List on Why Bare List

“Bare lists of words are suggestive to the imaginative and excited mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve received some questions regarding the inspiration of the title of this blog. The simple answer is that I love this quote and I thought it’d make a kick-ass title/theme. While this may be the shorthanded assertion you receive if we’re making small talk on the train, it doesn’t do justice to the reality of it’s selection. I do love this quote, not because of its eloquence and simplicity, but because it encapsulates everything about why I write. Why we all do. Why we write, why we read, why we have a never ending thirst to continue to give meaning to arbitrary words on a page.

As writers, we toil through endless iterations and reincarnations of what, in its simplest form, is nothing more than bare lists of words on a page. We read each one hoping our love/hate/passion/distress is conveyed to our readers in a way that reaches past the page and into their minds and hearts. It’s an absurd task that we give ourselves over to in the hope that even just one person will connect with these bare words. And the even more absurd thing it works.

The magic of these bare lists of words is that to those imaginative and excited minds, to our imaginative and excited minds, they evoke powerful emotions and connections. Their essence becomes personalized to each individual who sets about the task of imbibing them. What is nothing to one reader is everything to another. We can give these bare lists of words to hundreds of readers and each one will come away with a different interpretation. We can set them to music and people will fill amphitheaters to hear them. We can read them again and again and take away a different meaning each time. We can see ourselves reflected in the characters of a stranger. It’s amazing what these simple bare lists of words can accomplish. They can be our hope when we are filled with despair, they can be our friend when we are alone, they tell our story when we’ve lost the strength to tell it ourselves.

So, on my dark writing days when the words on the page won’t work for me. When no matter how hard I try those words will take on no life or meaning, I remember that to those excited minds, that bare list of words can mean anything and I’m able to keep writing.

That’s why Bare List of Words. What’s your inspiration? What inspired your blog and what inspires you to keep writing?