Be Regular and Orderly in Your Life So That You May Be Violent and Original in Your Work*

My friend Beth is in the MFA creative writing program at a fine university north of here. This means she has to be creative every Tuesday and Thursday whether she feels like it or not. (It should be noted she is already possessed of one graduate degree, a job, a husband, and two children. Beth has plenty to keep herself busy, writing not least of which.) Recently she attended a reading/colloquy of a well-known poet at said university and the next morning e-mailed me: “LOVED!!!!! It showed me a new way to work, to give in to joy and messiness in the process and shore up my fear and need to be as smart or serious as this writer or that.”

Pay attention, kids, there will be a test later. Beth just passed.

Writing is such a solitary process (I have friends who listen to music but I myself need silence) that it’s easy to get all up in your own head, where reside your demons—those bad boys who’ve just been waiting for an opportunity to tell you how truly rotten a writer you are. Like, you suck at this writing thing, dude. And you’ll never be as good as [insert your favorite author here], so you should probably just stop now.

Stop, indeed.

Anne Lamott puts this myth to rest in Bird by Bird, her best-selling book of advice for writers:

People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell. … But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.

She goes on to describe the phenomenon she calls the “shitty first draft” (“All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts”).

So true. It’s a messy, messy process. (I’ve heard it called word vomit. Ew.) But you’ve got to get it out, on the page, to get to the good stuff. And if you can develop a passion for this part of the routine, so much the better.

Beth says: “Joy. Exuberance. Messiness. My new writing mantra.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

*Quote is from French novelist Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Gertrude Tennant (25 December 1876)

(This post was written for and originally appeared in GardenWritersToday.com.)

 

Tweet: Give in to the joy and messiness inherent to the writing process.
Tweet: When writing, it’s easy to get all up in your own head, where reside your demons.

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9 Comments

  1. Michelle Ule says:

    So you don’t think going through heavy spiritual warfare is a good excuse? :-)

    I can no longer write to music myself.

    Been in my head all week, but the clouds are lifting, light is dawning and I may finally have found my way . . . tra la! Tra la!

    As long as Eyeore stays in the 100 acres wood, of course . . .

    Thanks.

  2. Jamie says:

    I have several posts (enough to get me into mid-November) written and nothing specific planned to run today. Wonder why this one jumped out at me?

  3. Oh, Jamie.

    What a post!

    Thank you for it and for reminding me of the necessary messiness (say that twelve times fast) and the coveted joy. Just what I needed today!

    kim

  4. Jamie says:

    I’m so pleased with the reaction this post has gotten!

  5. So very true. I once heard a writer suggest that we name our internal editors. It keeps them from speaking fear into our minds anonymously and gives us a tool to fight back. It’s not uncommon to hear something like this at my house, “Such a pity you missed today’s writing session, Bernice. You ought to get up earlier. Like me.”

  6. Jamie says:

    LOL! Love this!

  7. Marti Pieper says:

    Anne LaMott has long been my hero. And do you know something? Jamie Chavez is, too.
    You nailed it, my sister in messiness-turned-to-beauty.

    P.S. I thought about describing this as an AMAZING post but–you already know that story.

  8. […] friend Beth, as I’ve noted before, is an accomplished writer, having been working her way through the MFA writing program at Butler […]

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