Monday, April 18, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Struggling Writer

In the morning when I wake up I am of course, first myself, and then I am a wife and a mother. Throughout the day I find myself in a continuous changing-of-the-guard of sorts, as I attempt to flow efficiently and effectively through the additional roles that fill in the lines of my job description. As a home-schooling teacher of an almost teen, I add educator to a line, then there is home-manager, which can also be read as “maid”, accountant and budget manager, designer and decorator, and more and more frequently, wedding and event planner. The newest role of re-entry student threatens to make a splash in the equilibrium of my day, and every once in a while the roles of friend, sister, and daughter sneak in to wrestle a few minutes from the precarious balancing act that is my delightful and disjointed life.

I have enjoyed many roles in my fifty years of roaming this earth, and find that each of them form a piece of the greater whole, that is my most true self. I have dove to the depths of 120 feet in the waters of the South Pacific, a character in a magical chase of woman, shark and tortoise, and I can take you there. I have hovered motionless waiting for a tiny fish to peek from its Saki bottle abode in the watery white sands off the coast of Truk lagoon, blue waters clear and crystal, wrecks of an Imperial navy once mighty, resting forever quiet, and I can take you there. I have come to my knees before God, mighty and mysterious, and watched as he put together the pieces of a broken and hopeless life, and I can take you there. I have known the empty arms of a woman who has released son and husband to the heartache of death, and I can take you there.

The minutes of my days, my weeks, my months, and my years have seen many places, and many roles have been played on the stage of my life, yet every moment of every day I find that one role nags at my brain, and tugs at my heart; the singular role that pulls all my pieces together and make sense of them, every moment of every day, I, am a writer.

A writer writes even when no one is reading. A writer writes to release the stories true and imaginary, heartbreaking and hilarious, finished and unfinished from the confines of their bursting brain. A writer writes to free themselves of the words that pour through their brain at any time of their choosing, with and without permission. A writer writes because somewhere deep inside of themselves they believe it is exactly what they were made to do, even if they don’t believe that they themselves were created at all, a writer still feels driven to express, to speak with words of black and white, to create. A writer writes because although in the morning they may wake up a mother, or a father, a wife or a husband, a businessperson or an accountant, every minute of every day, they are a writer. I write, because every moment of every day, something says to me, “You were born to write.”

The Tools of My Trade

"I don't know what I think until I write it down."
Joan Didion

Author Joan Didion notes in her book, “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2006.) that at one point in her quest as an author, her husband, an accomplished screen-writer remarked that she would not truly become a writer until she maintained the habit of carrying a notepad with her constantly. The notepad, of course was for the purpose of recording those random bits of beauty, wisdom, and wildness, which will of course only come to the writer at an inconvenient and interruptive time. Upon reading this, knowing that my career as a writer had lay fallow for some fifteen years, I made a commitment to the notepad, and she and I have become inseparable partners in a singular purpose; that this writer who had not penned much more than a college paper, and the random thank you note, would once again set off on the lovely and languishing journey called writing.

In her book, “Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life” (2006), author Ann Lamott notes that to be good writer, one must first be a reader. While writers often rely on experiences from their own life as a starting point for their writing, reading other authors, both great and marginal, gives the writer the opportunity to study style, context, tone, and use of verbiage. Ultimately, reading enlarges the perspective of the writer, and while making them struggle with the deep jealousies that come with the knowledge that someone else is a great and published author, or worse someone else writes drivel, and yet still got paid for the spew that you are currently reading, still, reading spurs the creative mind.

Other tools of the writing trade include a good laptop computer, or some well-sharpened pencils, a hand that doesn’t cramp in revolt at hours of writing, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book of quotations, interesting people, places, and perspective, and of course, life experience, life experience, and life experience.

In a recent interview with O Magazine, poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou remarked that her writing tools include a quiet hotel room where she a keeps her notes, “a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry.” (April 2011) As for this writer, sherry aside, writing without prayer is like toast without butter, dry and devoid of taste, and often, my inspirations come in that time right after I have opened my Bible, gotten to my knees, and listened to the voice of the singular Master of the creative word.

The tools of my craft have begun to fill the empty spaces of my home, notes litter my purse, my car, and a writing file, a little black notebook sits on my bed stand, ideas are scrawled in the margins of books that I am currently reading or have recently read, on church programs, and on my daily to do list. As I drive, if a witty quip or a deep reflection comes to mind, I ask my children that are riding in the car with me to send a text of my thought to my phone, or I call and send myself a message. In encouragement of my craft, a once guest room has been reconfigured and retitled by my husband as writer’s retreat, echoing his belief in me each time he mentions the term. My tools in place it is time to tame the beast.

Taming the Intimidating Task

I have heard it told that the great American author Jack London compelled himself to sit at his desk each day and pen a specific number of words. Writer’s write, they make themselves write, and I make myself write. It is a discipline. The apostle Paul, in his writings to his young associate Timothy instructs him with the following admonition recorded in 1 Timothy 4:7 of the Bible, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” As for me, I believe that any writing skill I have is a God-given gift, and should be treated as such, for the use of my Creator, for the encouragement, edification and education of others, and of course, just for the delight of the using the gift. And so I discipline myself, making an effort to read wisdom literature, and excellent authors, and seeking to write a minimum of twenty minutes a day.

Writer’s Block

What do you feel when you see a blank page? When for one reason or another you are compelled to write a report, a letter, or a simple thank you note to your mother. Do beads of perspiration form on your brow? Then do the shakes begin, and perhaps it is worse than a cold-turkey drug withdrawal? For some people there is nothing more intimidating than a blank page. Writers feel the same, it is a sick and unnerving game of chicken as one hears in their mind, “I have no words to write, I am compelled to write, nothing is coming to my tortured brain, and my deepest desire is to write.” Having this condition known as Writer’s Block can make one think; “Oh it would feel so good to bang my head against the wall.” One may recall that they had a brilliant thought while driving in the car, or in the middle of the night last night, or while sitting on the toilet, and now all shining ideas seem to have flushed down that proverbial porcelain pot along with the rest of the excrement. When faced with such frustration, this writer has no choice but to disagree with the voices in my head that argue that I will never write anything of value again and write, until a void and staring page becomes words, and words become a sentence, and poetry turns into blog, sentence into article, and chapter into book.


Some fifteen plus years ago, my writing partner and I would look forward to the daily ritual of going to the mailbox. Inside this treasure trove of such, we might find glorious evidences that someone; somewhere thought we could pen a word or two. A successful day might bring an acceptance letter from a magazine, or a check from a publishing house, or even for evidence of true accomplishment, an actual story or article set in beautiful type comfortably resting between the two covers of a magazine or book. Ah, writer’s heaven. Today, as an unsure but hopeful writer, my work finds itself appearing regularly in a self-publishing format called the blog.

Originally titled web logging, the blog is an interactive web site where a writer can post a variety of compositions from diary form to advertisement in style. Once the blog is posted to the website people using the web can access the author’s blog page, read the posting, and even leave a comment for the writer. In an effort to discipline myself to practice the art and skill of writing, I set forth a personal challenge within myself to complete a number of pieces that were finished enough for the reader’s eye, and self-publish them in the blog format. The intent of this project was simple and straightforward, as a writer, I needed to write, and even the thought that someone else might be reading spurs my desire to write well. Blog writers also have the opportunity to share biographical information for the reader, as well as other blogs that the writer may read or contribute to.

Resources for Writers

Resources for writers abound, some excellent and some marginal. For the readers benefit I have noted within the text several books that may assist in the writing process. Those interested in the writing experience may also find assistance through local colleges that offer courses and seminars for aspiring writers, as well as writers groups that are formed specifically for the purpose of writers encouraging writers.

Although writers write because they must, they often have the deep desire to see their write in print and to open their mailbox and find a tangible monetary reward. As for this writer, I will keep on praying, keep on making those furious scribbles I call notes, and keep on writing with the hope that not only will my work be read, but that it will make a difference in the life of even one human being, and if I open my mailbox to a cache of checks, I will consider it an honor and a privilege to get paid to do a job that I love.
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