Lately, I've been thinking about how I write. The way I work doesn't really line up with the way I thought it would be. When I was growing up, I imagined that being a writer meant that you sat at your desk for a certain amount of time each day, and you wrote chapters until you finished your book. Then you sat at your desk and revised, and one day, you wrote "The End," and it was cause for great celebration.
It turns out that I don't sit at a desk. I write in bed. And I have concentrated periods of time where I am writing chapters. But more and more, I'm finding that an important part of writing is listening and doing things that doesn't look like much. Doodles. Reading a book. Watching a movie. Taking a walk. Stopping in the middle of an errand to write something down in that red notebook that lives in my purse. Making timelines, clustering. Engaging in basic brainstorming that doesn't translate to word counts. And I could work on the celebration. Right now that just consists of a basic Snoopy dance and a hoot and a holler or two.
Sometimes it all feels fraudulent. Why am I not writing paragraphs? Is this really going to end up being a chapter? Then I remember back in the day when I read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. She recommended morning pages, writing two pages in a notebook when you first woke up. I probably did that for a year. It did make me feel like I was doing something. But I have no idea what happened to those notebooks. I never referred to those pages again. If I looked back at them now, I'm sure I would read something along the lines of "I'm very tired. The sky looks grey today. A bird is singing. I wonder what kind of bird sings that song." So I achieved my goals at the time. I wrote those two pages, but it didn't take me anywhere.
I'm currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. It's all about creativity, and I'm sure many would think it was too woo woo. But California is my home. I can speak woo woo. Anyway, in the book, Gilbert talks about how she thinks ideas come to writers. She feels that an idea will choose a writer, and the writer can then decide if this is an idea that she wants to explore. If she doesn't, that's fine. The idea will find someone else. If she does, the idea and the writer are now in relationship. And if things come up and the writer ends up not pursuing the idea, then the idea goes and finds a writer who will.
When I was writing Joy Returns!, I was afraid my idea would leave me. If that had happened, I would have understood. I listened to someone else's idea of my idea. I tried to bend myself in a pretzel to figure out how to make my idea their idea, and then I cried and couldn't write anything. I felt my idea going away. But before she did, she woke me up in the middle of the night for several days in a row. She made me write when I was tired and had no analytical resources. I just threw words on a page and thought they were nothing. Then she let me sleep through the night again. When I read the words in the light of day, I realized that my idea was still here, and I settled down and got to work and vowed to listen and not to stray.
Writing is a mysterious business. I'm often humbled. I always learn from the process. I frequently feel like I don't know what I'm doing. I try to keep track. I try to keep a connection. I try to honor the ideas that come to me and write them down as fully and as clearly as I can.