by Jenny Hansen
A little over ten years ago, I wrote a post that changed my trajectory as a writer. Writing this post literally pulled me back from that edge of giving up the thing I most love to do. It was January, 2011 and one simple resolution saved me. In these crazy pandemic times, I thought perhaps someone else could use the words of encouragement.
Some background on what was going on with me...
- I'd just lived through the kind of pregnancy where the chance of everyone dying is incredibly real and I had a mild case of post-partum depression.
- That baby I worked so hard for was about eight months old.
- I was really really ill with what I realized later was an insane allergy to gluten.
You'll read the rest in the post, but I was very much in danger of losing my writing. The details and the chaos of my life were pounding against my creativity, washing it away like waves on the sand, and I didn't have the mental or physical resources to turn the tide.
Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”
My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to show up for my writing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I thought so too until I spent 2010 showing up for everything else but my writing.
Now mind you, many of the things I showed up for were huge, life-changing events: a high-risk pregnancy, the birth of my first child, the loss of a treasured pet, the loss of my husband’s mother, our last living parent, moving from the home where I’ve lived for more than ten years. Plus there were the usual work, church, friend events that are important in keeping the day-to-day wheels of life running.
I continued to attend writing events where I could. Of course, I keep in close communication with my fellow members of Writers in the Storm, but I did not show up to my own works in progress on a regular basis. And it showed.
Laura Drake, our goal-oriented mover and shaker here at WITS, started making noises on New Year’s Eve for all of us to post our writing goals for the year (hers – in plural – were done). With the daily added tasks of a new baby, along with a husband and a job, her initial enthusiastic encouragement sounded like a loud, jarring squawk. Writing goals for the YEAR? I could barely get to a writing goal for the week and my personal goals read something like “start exercising and get some sleep.”
Still, my Christmas present to myself was taking time each day to read at least two essays from Julia Cameron’s “The Sound of Paper” and I was immersing myself in the delight of her pages each morning for about 20 minutes while I ate breakfast. She discusses at length that “the role of an artist is to show up for the work and allow it to move through them.”
I sat weeping at my breakfast table on December 30th as I thought about this very simple answer to my writing angst – a derivation of the answer that I give to people starting out in a new career. "When you aren’t sure what to do, do something. Even if what you’re doing isn’t “THE” thing, you are out there showing up each day so you will be ready when the perfect thing comes along."
I was crying because I hadn’t been following my own advice, especially when it came to writing.
I hadn’t understood that I just had to show up. I thought I had to build a writing temple, a schedule, a process, develop some sort of structure, all so the muse would have a set destination to show up to (and yes, I’m aware about how colossally dumb this sounds now that I’m writing it out loud for you).
My tears sprang from the joy and relief that I didn’t have to be somebody who had it together. My creative spirit could find me anyway. I just had to plop my overtired, cranky, insanely disorganized self down in front of whatever writing surface was handy, as often as possible.
That was it, my huge epiphany that year:
Show up to the page and the creative spirit will move through you if you stop trying to tell it how it needs to act, who it should be and what it should be saying. Park your inner control freak somewhere far from the page and just write. The rest will come.
With the above lesson in mind, I made a writing resolution that could fit into the life I had, rather than the life I wished for. (Of course, that dream life was filled with huge blocks of free time.)
My vow? Show up to the page for five hours a week.
As my daughter learned to crawl, walk, and run, I wrote. Sometimes it was a blog, sometimes it was a scene or a story. Whatever it was, I sent all my previously ordered notions about specific numbers of pages or chapters to the thrift shop for poor writerly habits and dead goals, along with all the other items I’d outgrown or stopped using. All those "shoulds" and negative self-talk ever did for me was stress me out during what was already a full-up busy, blissful, chaotic time.
Five hours a week -- or three, or even one when my baby girl was sick -- was a decadent gift to my creative self. Even when I had to break the time into twenty-minute chunks and set a kitchen timer, getting back to the page was an act of defiance and beauty and love. And for this new mom, it was as luxurious as a long, hot bubble bath.
Have you ever thought of chucking your writing over the proverbial cliff? What pulled you back from the edge? How did you get past it?
* * * * * *
By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.