a guide to writing
Every once in a while I get the feeling that I’ll crawl right out of my skin unless I clean out a closet. Nothing makes me happier than to fill bags and bags of unused stuff to haul off to the Goodwill store, where they always ask me if I want a receipt and I always say no. I have a theory is that everything ends up where it needs to be and if I don’t need it, it doesn’t belong to me, and how could I possibly take a receipt for someone else’s stuff?
Closet cleaning. It’s a useful skill. Some people like a clean stovetop or a clean floor; I like a tidy closet. This isn’t just me being obsessive – well maybe, but I like to think that I am not so much a collector as an experiencer. I am not so much interested in getting stuff as I am in having insights and impressions wash over me like high tide on a blue moon.
Once, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I tried to temp my Amish neighbor into letting me take photographs of her beautiful young sons with their straw hats and wide blue trusting eyes. “For later, when they grow up, to remember them by,” I said, and she turned me down flat. “It’s not our way,” was all she would say. And I got it. She didn’t need to take measure of the moment to save it for later. She wasn’t keeping a piece of now to reminisce; she was fully present. I liked that. I wanted to emulate that.
So, I like to throw/give stuff away. Make no mistake, I don’t exactly shun materialism, indeed, I find that a certain measure of pretty things make me happy and content. However, truth to tell, I find that I can’t quite think as clearly or creatively when things all around me are jumbled up and drowning in clutter and I can’t find my car keys.
Writing is like that, which is why I think I’s so important to write. A lot. If not every day, then several times a week, at least. It’s not because all that practice makes you a better writer, even though it does. It’s not because all the best writers do it and you’ll become a best seller by osmosis, because that’s just silly. No, writing every day is important because it gets all the clutter out of your head so that when you have something really important or profound or dazzlingly brilliant to say, it will be seen as diamonds sparkling on the sand, instead of dull objects half obscured beneath a verb-dump.
Timed writing exercises or list making exercises are great ways to purge the shrunken tee shirts and torn jeans of your brain. Oh sure, you think you’ll wear them again, but you’re just kidding yourself. They’re hanging out reminder you that the time is passing you by and those jeans will still be waiting there for you. Some day.
I used to think that I need to save my creative stuff up, like there was a limited supply of juicy ideas. You laugh, but it’s true. I thought, “well, I’ll just save that good idea for later, because then I’ll really have time to develop it and it will so rock.” It seems strange to think that now, but why else would I want to withhold my creative spark? Because, I thought, maybe that creative sliver of divine creative spark might be too good or not good enough to share with the world.
Let me just make one thing perfectly clear: there is no shortage of good ideas. If you use up one good idea, three will appear in its place. It’s when you stuff a good idea or ignore a good idea, that they stop flowing in through the open window of your mind. So use them up! Fast! And then use them some more!
And you know what else? When you use up all your good ideas, when you pour them onto the page like good maple syrup on homemade sourdough pancakes, you’ll get to a place much sweeter than the place you’re at now. I totally promise.
Do this: write a list of the 100 things you know for sure how to do. I bet you’ll dash off ten things you’re good at without breaking a sweat. You’ll push on to twenty and start to chug. Climbing up to thirty, a little voice inside your head will start to sound like The Little Train That Could. Forty? You may feel like giving up. But here’s what you get when you push past the point that you thought was the outer edge: the ideas dam has burst and they start to flow fast and frenetic and suddenly you see the wisdom in the 100. It’s not the first or second or even the fifth ten things, it’s the ones past where you thought you knew where you were going that are the really interesting ones.
You can do this for a year. Write about the 100 things you look for in a soulmate. The 100 things you learned in college. The 100 places you want to visit while you still inhabit the planet. This is important stuff. Not because of the things themselves, but because of the process of learning to open up to the place in your heart that exists beyond everything you think you know. It’s the stuff beyond that, that gets really good. Use it up! Use it all up as it comes in. You can never use it up completely. Unless you want to, and that’s an entirely different choice, baby.