I had this post planned out this week about Books on Writing, but I kind of lost heart about it. I’m sick of reading about writing and not writing, and I’m sick even more of writing about writing but not writing. If that makes sense.
I’ve been having trouble settling on something concrete to write about, but all these little story ideas keep coming to me. I scribble them down on post-it notes and then look at them later and feel like I am actually the dumbest person on earth. I remember what it used to feel like when I had something I wanted to say, that rush when I felt elevated enough by my own voice to say it. Things have gotten difficult, because the voice that used to tell me to write it down is now telling me I have about a million other things to do.
I am, however, nothing if not resilient in the face of my constant nagging neurosis: when I feel most pathetic is when I am most likely to be quiet and listen to what is going on around me. I have a creepy need to sit back, do nothing, and observe. This is how I became a writer in the first place. I have always had a knack for feeling like a fly on the wall, and an ugly one at that, and this has served me well. But it’s not just that-sometimes you need to be humbled to see what’s actually going on around you. You need to be knocked down before you can actually see what the story is, that the story is not about how you are a Great Talented Successful Person. The story is about what you saw when you sat down, shut up and listened.
It’s self-indulgent for me to read Stephen King’s On Writing for the fourth time instead of writing a story. There’s a time where you have to set aside the noise and decide for yourself how to write.
Sometimes you have to indulge, if only to find little bits and pieces that will lift you up and remind you to keep your eyes open and your fingers ready. This week I saw this video of George Saunders on the Atlantic that did that for me. He makes writing seem holy and life-affirming (“when you pay attention to those sentences, your better nature rises up”), but also like a skill to be honed, which is what I needed to hear. Stories are important, great stories are holy things, but writers are not holy things. Stories aren’t just delivered pre-written from the heavens. It takes equal parts practice and empathy, just like everything else.
My goal for the new year is to practice, not preach, and I am looking forward to shutting up about this topic in a variety of ways. Thanks, as always, for reading.