A Large Field in Writing


Earlier this week, I finished reading both of the books on writing that I had been working my way through for the past few weeks. I should clarify what I mean by "finished." I read all the words in each book once and stared at the author photos on the back about a dozen times. I underlined many sentences that were brilliantly crafted and/or that spoke deeply to my soul. And the whole time I read, I was feeling homesick for the experience even while it was happening. I knew I'd have to revisit the words of these two books, sooner rather than later.

I'll likely read them again this fall, or at least go back through my underlines and copy the most important ideas to my commonplace book.

I came to crave the words of Robert Benson's Dancing on the Head of a Pen and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones because they spoke directly to the writer in me, cheering me along on my writing journey and teaching me new skills for staying the course. Each day I came away from time with these two with a more dogged and decided view of myself as a writer.

I am convinced that writing is "the gift to which I have been given, the gift that has been given to me," as Benson puts it. "We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories," says Goldberg. I second that.

Even while letting these writers draw me deeper into the writing life, I have simultaneously begun to pull back from the book-writing process I have been engaged in since the beginning of the year. I spent a solid six or seven months organizing my thoughts around the book I had planned to write (about my year of writing letters), completing an audio course on publishing a book, writing a book proposal and three sample chapters, and beginning the agent-querying process. All of this was good, hard work. Hard, hard work.

What stopped me in my tracks two weeks ago was the sudden realization that if I go further along this path right now (i.e. find an agent and then secure a publishing contract), the work won't get easier. It will gets loads harder. It will require more time, more nights away from the kids, more babysitting hours. I will have deadlines to meet and people to answer to. I might even succeed at something I'm not sure I want.

I want to write; of course, I want to write. But I don't want to kill my soul over it. I want to be more human, not less. At the pace I had been working, under the self-imposed pressure, I couldn't afford to be clumsy. Every minute of my day was accounted for, so something better not get spilled in the kitchen because we don't have the two extra minutes to clean up a mess. Wash hands always and not too much sugar because there's no margin for getting sick. Quick! Brush your teeth, only one bedtime story, to bed on time, for there's a schedule to keep and miles to go before I sleep.

This is not a way to live. It may be a way to write, and to get a book published, but it is too great a price to pay today.

Since deciding to go easy right now, to not query another agent for a while, to not write more book chapters this fall, to not force my hand at writing, I have found peace. I was given permission by people who love me to take the pressure off. You can spend a morning visiting with a friend, they told me. You can take a long shower, work on other things besides always writing, blog as much as you want, be with the family at night, and it's even okay if something drops and breaks. 

Today I feel more human than I've felt in a long time. I really feel a difference. In the few hours of alone time this morning with the kids at school and Sailor in Nana's care, I have enjoyed working on a photobook, writing a letter to a friend, reading this blog post, reading this article, journaling, reading a devotion, writing on my blog, and working on the photobook a second time. Can this really be true?

I know now that taking time to be human, to rest and let my mind and body recover from the writing pressures of the last six months, will allow me to continue on my writing journey. I won't burn out too soon or give up entirely. I won't have to write. And I don't have to know where I'm going with all this either.

Goldberg says, "You need a large field in writing too. Don't pull in the reins too quickly. Give yourself tremendous space to wander in, to be utterly lost with no name, and then come back and speak."

Thanks to this kind of encouragement and guidance from mentors like Benson and Goldberg, I know I will keep coming back to speak. Along the way, I hope to become more sane and human, and if my prayers are answered, I hope to encourage your own sanity and humanness too.