Build Your Writing Life
Believe in It and Start More Writing Now!
When I think about how I began cultivating my writer\’s life, I realize had been doing so even before I knew what I was doing. But once it began a more conscious process, about a year later, I became overwhelmed. I didn\’t know writers\’ jargon or the prerequisites for developing into an accomplished writer. I didn\’t know the lay of the land and how to negotiate the impact on me of those involved in the field. I didn\’t know if I had the stamina or the talent necessary or how to inoculate myself against others\’ judgments and snubs. All I had was the knowledge that I wanted to write, poetry in particular. I was 27, had two young children, and felt writing poetry was going to make my life come true.
What I know today, 34 years later, is that anyone can begin anytime under any circumstances and yes, writing can make your life come true. I also know that everyone creating a writing life takes different steps of different lengths at different times and even in different directions. There is no one right way to build this life, but each one of those steps, no matter how big or how small, is a step in the “write” direction.
When my daughter was two and my son only a few months old, I took a break from working outside of the home. I was busier than I\’d ever been in my life tending all day to two children two years apart. Between laundry and nursing and getting them both down for naps (never at the same time, it seemed) and making baby food and finding activities to share with my little girl because I didn\’t want her to feel ignored, I wasn\’t thinking about much else, even about missing adult company. Then one day, my best friend from college days asked me if I\’d like to join her and three others who were buying tickets to a film series at the Seattle Art Museum. She really had to urge me to go and commented that I wasn\’t the person she had befriended in college, always eager to discuss literature and plays.
I decided I could do this. It meant one evening a month out and pumping milk for a bottle-feeding. It meant getting comfortable with my non-mommy self again. No babies, just me with peers interested in the arts.
The brother of one of our group members had taken up astrology and wanted to do all of our charts. I sent him the birth information he needed. On an afternoon when I had childcare, I visited him to discuss the chart he had drawn.
“Have you ever thought about writing?” he asked.
“Well, yes. In high school I wrote poems. Doesn\’t everyone? In college, I decided to study literature. I loved the poets I read, the poetry books that seemed to jump into my hands when I was in bookstores.”
“Well, writing is burning a hole in your chart. You are a writer,” he replied.
Instead of questioning how he could know that or if it were true, between folding diapers (no disposables then) and pureeing carrots and apples, I began jotting down poetic phrases that came to mind. And I began reading what I was jotting down to my daughter who always had something of her own to add: “Mommy, in my dream you had an umbrella that carried you up with the raindrops and you fell back down to earth watering the flowers.” “Mommy, when I grow up and you grow down…” “Mommy, what can I draw for you? A sky with rainbows?” I enjoyed putting the phrases that struck me on paper. Writing was beginning to carve a space for itself inside my life.
Think about the people in your life who encouraged your creative life. Did they say how much they enjoyed your letters and email? Did they think your ideas or life lent themselves to a book? Did they send you books to read or bring you to lectures and events they thought you\’d like because they thought of you as a writer? Did they read some poems or stories you wrote and encourage you? What characteristics did they notice about you?
Write down what they said to you about your writing. Remember the moment? If you are stuck or worried about your progress, believe what they said and believe that writing is burning a hole in your chart.
What are you going to do today to feed the fire?
- Write a letter to one of those people who thought of you as a writer or make up a letter they might have sent you. Try starting with a line about what they are always telling you about yourself as a writer and then tell them what you plan to do to build your writing life this day or week or month.
- Can you read about local writers and read work in local publications?
- Can you continue to attend readings regularly, alone or with new writing friends?
- Can you find a writing chat room or blogging site that interests you? OpenSalon.com is an active site with well done writing. Brevity\’s Creative Nonfiction blog is also of interest for nonfiction writing.
- Can you arrange writing days or café time or email exchanges with some of the writers you are meeting–you can divide the time between doing writing, sharing writing, and supporting one another with writing information?
Once you dive in, keep track of days you feel like you are an outsider and days you learn something that allows you to feel more connected, more sure footed in your writing world. What makes the difference? Once you know what that is–learning about a body of work, an organization, what language writers use to articulate their responses to work in progress, jargon that goes along with particular genres, the names of publications others in your genre are reading, the history of groups of writers, something pleasing about your own writing– you can concentrate on learning what you need to learn without worrying that feeling badly about your position as a new-be. Keep a list of the things that have helped you. Write them down for someone else (sharing what you know is the best way of connecting to learn more from others).
All the ways you study and practice writing in whatever mixture of venues, you are following your path and further negotiating the lay of the land you want to explore.