Write a Paragraph Every Morning
The following words have always motivated me to write:
Which I have always also read as: all it takes is some small thing for someone to write. And so I have always focused on the small things that work upon me, magically if you will, that enable me to write.
My writing mantra these days is "write a paragraph every morning." I write my paragraph before I do anything else online. Before I read my emails. Before I've said anything out loud. I write when I'm still drinking my first cup of coffee and I'm not even really awake. I hold myself to writing one paragraph, but I often write more. I usually write one page, and sometimes I write two. But I only have to write that one paragraph.
It's not glamorous, this writing life. No one is going to make a movie of me writing in the early mornings, the half dark, wearing my grey housecoat, drinking my coffee like it's the elixir of life, eyes partly open, hair a mess.
The Writing Life.
The book by Annie Dillard is a good one, and still useful to anyone embarking on the writing life. It doesn't, of course, tell the whole story. I often think there should be a book for emerging writers with a chapter written by an accountant, telling them how to best parcel out their meagre funds, how to stay out of debt, how to save for those times when you have little money but much to say. A chapter on your second job and how to manage that, how to make it work with the writing.
The things books on the writing life don't tell you are innumerable. They don't tell you about all the waiting you will do. They don't tell you how long your work will sit in slush piles. Once in a while you will get the courage to write an editor and ask how your work is doing in aforementioned slush pile. Sometimes you will hear, oh, I didn't know your work was in the pile, or it was misplaced, or oh, we were just about to send you a rejection slip. Books on the writing life don't tell you that it's possible to be simultaneously waiting for 6 different things at once, and that you will never not be waiting on some news. They don't tell you how all this waiting will affect your nervous system. How unnerved you will become.
Books on the writing life don't tell you how over time you begin to understand how crazy some people think you are for continuing to write since you barely begin to break even on the enterprise most years. The books don't tell you how tired you become of trying to explain yourself. And that you stop explaining yourself. When you're young and dreaming of your literary career you don't factor in the days when you're so tired you could be in another realm, when you feel like mud. You don't factor in the perimenopause and the way you will have to squeeze your writing time, your writing self, into one part of the week, and the rest of the week you will inhabit other roles sometimes forgetting you even have a writing self.
You won't know how few free days you will actually have and you don't know about so many of the impediments, the obstacles you will face, not to mention you won't know how doubt operates on you over time. You won't know the strange way critical reception or lack thereof will alter your path. In fact, all the odd, small yeses and nos - how each little move changes this or that. The garden of forking paths, obviously. Illnesses will come into play, your own perhaps, heaven forbid, and also heaven forbid, the illnesses and needs of others.
Books on the writing life rarely tell you how odd you're going to become, if you happen to be able to stick with it for long enough. How off-kilter the so-called ordinary life will start to seem and how all you want to do is bury yourself in the writing life but how unlikely that is to happen. How you will spend a lot of time and energy, indeed, trying to appear normal. You will become more eccentric. Maybe anti-social. Books on the writing life should remind you to take acting lessons, so that you can move between realms more easily.
We are reading, and also writing, Dillard says, "in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed..." This is the truth of it.
Did I mention? you will also forget to breathe some days.
There are no magic words to help anyone through the bad reviews, the inevitable criticism, the rejections, the literary shunning, the literary invisibility cloak which most of us will wear most of the time. But we're not alone in this.
"No person can be found
who has been, is, or will be
or only praised."
– The Dhammapada
When we receive criticism of our work it's very easy to feel worthless, to wonder what the point of making art/writing is, after all. But how about this for smart:
"When you get criticism, be elegant about it, appreciate it, and understand that it's part of getting your work out to the world."
So for me, this is part of what being a successful writer, successful human being, is about. Being elegant, and finding a way to get your work in the world.
So there you are. You're ready to write your song, your poem, your paragraph. You're determined to persist. Where to begin? What if we were simply to begin with a word we love. Close your eyes.
And the word is.....?
I'll end with this beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye which will remind you off all the spaciousness you have available to you.
Over the Weather
by Naomi Shihab Nye
We forget about the spaciousness
above the clouds
but it's up there.The sun's up there too.
When words we hear don't fit the day,
when we worry
what we did or didn't do,
what if we close our eyes,
say any word we love
that makes us feel calm,
slip it into the atmosphere
Creamy miles of quiet.
Giant swoop of blue.