In an effort to avoid writing the last 25,000 words of my first novel’s first draft, I was on Twitter, because Twitter is my favorite procrastination tool. Though I have a love-hate relationship with that little blue bird/chip on my shoulder, I discover something almost every time I’m on it. It’s how I found my internship at Mommyish. It’s how I came to contribute to Huffington Post Live. It’s how I learn things about myself.
This one particular tweet started this week’s lesson learned from procrastinating:
Why is it so damn difficult for me to write something that doesn’t make my readers want to slit their own throats?
— michellelongo (@michellelongo) March 17, 2013
Michelle was actually being really funny when she said this but anyone who follows her blog knows she has a valid point. She’s very funny in person, but her posts are deep, serious, and somber. None of them have ever made me want to slit my throat, but behind the humor I understood what she was saying. She didn’t want to be seen as just one aspect of who she really is.
A few minutes later I got an email from a friend with a story that blew me away. The writing was so intense and lyrical. It was some of the best work I’d ever read and it was just a first draft/”brain dump” story. I know this friend well enough to know she has far more going on in her life than the descriptions (no matter how brilliant they were) in this piece. In fact, I don’t see her that way at all, but I could feel it in her writing. By writing it down, she declared she wanted to free herself from the picture pained in those words, rather than freezing herself in them. It was real, but it wasn’t her – not anymore.
After Michelle’s tweet and this email I saw very clearly that I am struggling in the same way.
On Monday, my words will be published elsewhere (I’m too superstitious to reveal where, but you should know in less than 24 hours *knock on wood*). Those words are sad and heavy. There is no humor in that piece. I worry that people will think these words define me. That they will believe they are coming out of my mouth as they read them. They are not. I wrote that piece almost five months ago, but even if I had written them yesterday, they are not ME.
Natalie Goldberg, author of the amazing book, Writing Down the Bones, describes her experience with the phenomenon I fear:
I have a poem entitled “No Hope” – it’s a long poem. I always think of it as joyous because in my ability to write of desperation and emptiness I felt alive again and unafraid. However, when I read it, people comment, “How sad.”
I understand the compulsion to say “how sad” and I welcome any response that my writing might evoke. I just hope you’ll understand the words do not define me, instead they liberated me from the place where I was stuck. I hope tomorrow when you read my heavyhearted post, you can take something away from it other than, “that’s sad for Carinn.”
If you haven’t read Writing Down the Bones, I highly recommend it. Among so many others, it contains these words I live by in my writing life:
Don’t identify so strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.
I love hearing the phenomenal stories of others, even when they aren’t all about poopy jokes and wine at the end of a long day of whining. I’ve never mistaken those stories for the people behind them. I can only hope the same for me, because I love sharing my stories and can’t imagine stopping.
After I’m done procrastinating, of course.