I used to get a little bit annoyed when writers would write about the process of writing as if non-writers would be interested. Now that I am trying to be a writer, I just can’t help it. Why is that? If you don’t care at all, I have the upmost respect for you. New blog post coming soon.
What I Learned First Semester Writing at Sarah Lawrence
#1: This writing thing is hard
I used to think writing was easy. Now I think it is excruciatingly hard. I used to write quickly, proud of my efficiency and productivity. Now I write at a painfully slow pace. I feel beat up and exhausted even though it is just my fingers and mind moving. There are always tears, so many tears. There is real doubt, agony and sleepless nights. There is less and less time in my life when I am not consumed with writing. It is a constant state of searching for truth, seeking wisdom, meditating on one word, obsessing about the power of punctuation. Once I started seeing myself as a writer, life became my homework. It never totally goes away, and I don’t really want it to.
#2: I don’t need to say everything I have ever thought about the matter at hand.
I do not have to tell the whole story, just the best story. Even when I want to say everything, it is always better to say one thing, and say it really well. Delete is my friend. I have learned how to delete pages and pages of stuff that is pretty good in the name of wanting better than pretty good. You don’t write something just because it happened. Every word has to be strategically moving the story forward. Every word has to be doing three things simultaneously for the reader, not for me.
#3: Nonfiction is touchy
No matter how hard I try, people I love will always be more two dimensional on paper than I had hoped.
#4: Writing takes more than just writing
Setting aside time to do noting is essential to the writing process. If I cheat at this, it will come back to haunt me. Nothing means really nothing. I am starting to trust this enough to enjoy it. Setting aside time to think is also essential to the writing process. People will look at me on the couch or on a subway and judge me for doing nothing and being lazy, but I am actually writing. I cannot write anything worth reading without hours of thinking and separately hours of not thinking.
#5 Cutting corners does not work
Writing in generalities brings out my inner fascism. When I get tired, I make sweeping statements that sound hateful, ignorant, and just plain untrue. Certainty is easier, but it is lazy. Specifics always lead me away from my inner fury. Fury is hard to let go of. But truth is not about certainty, and truth is always better. At the end of writing, every person, every issue is always messier and more alive than when I started.
#6: Writing is worthy work
I write to figure out what I really think about something, and it is not good writing if I did not write something that I did not know that I knew before I started. It is our job to take things into our bodies and transform them into something beautiful, palpable, healing.
#7: There are due dates, but never closure.
Nothing is ever perfect. You just hand it in when it is due.
Fail again. Fail better.
Just when I think that something is good, it gets feedback, and I have to dig down deep to find energy to look at it again. It always gets better with every draft. Draft. Draft.
#8: Listen to the Boss
For one of my workshop classes, I had to watch a documentary about Bruce Springsteen. Yes, my homework was drinking wine with two classmates and watching young Bruce shirtless in the studio for two hours creating his magic. I love my life. Anyway, it reinforced all the things I am starting to try to learn and retain about creating. He had a talent, and he honed it, lived it, ate it for breakfast. He practiced, worked harder than everyone, and then kept working. It is less romantic and more exhausting than it looks like when we hear the finished product. His commitment was almost irrational, almost narcotic, almost obsessive. He drafted and drafted for days and weeks and months. His dedication to perfection almost pushed away everyone he loved. Entire notebooks of lyrics, entire songs that were sure to be hits did not make the album. He deleted song greatness in the name of the album, the bigger work of art.
#9: I am not there yet
I stepped out into the pouring rain a few minutes before eleven, after Bruce completed a fourteen hour day on campus. It was a hard day. My professors took my final projects that I wanted to let go of, and they told me to go back and make them better. Draft. More. Again. I was tired. A few steps into the mile hike uphill to my apartment, I was soaked with the sideways rain. It was freezing, and a yoga injury necessitated a limp. I was a sorry looking graduate student. But I laughed the whole way home. The cold rain felt like my baptism into the program somehow. My professors were pushing me because they saw potential. They tear into us a little to see if we have the guts it takes to make something great better than great. It dawned on me that I was a little miserable, a little beat up, but I was invigorated in the struggle. I was in New York trying to write. Of course it was going to be uphill in the pouring rain. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I had resolve.
I don’t know if I am going to make it as an artist, as a writer, but I am sure as hell gonna try.