Monthly Archives: November 2012

Musings on writing

Last week I was compelled to resurrect my Kindle in order to read Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I was so intrigued by her after reading a Tin House blog entry. She is incredibly lyrical and startling. I’m glad I read it and I’m glad it’s over…. A tad bit too sad for this season. However, I’ll definitely be mulling it over for some time.

I thought I’d share some quotes from Bluets that stirred me as a writer and journaler….

“Writing is, in fact, an astonishing equalizer. I could have written half of these propositions drunk or high, for instance, and half sober; I could have written half in agonized tears, and half in a state of clinical detachment. But now that they have been shuffled around countless times– now that they have been made to appear, at long last, running forward as one river– how could either of us tell the difference? Perhaps this is why writing all day, even when the work feels arduous, never feels to me like ‘a hard day’s work.’ Often it feels more like balancing two sides of an equation– occasionally quite satisfying, but essentially a hard and passing rain” (Nelson, 2009).

“I will admit, however, upon considering the matter further, that writing does do something to one’s memory– that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve” (Nelson, 2009).

I have considered this same idea many times. On several occasions I’ve felt that my memory of an event or moment or period of my life has been replaced by reading about it later. This feeling is unpleasant, and best soothed by remembering that I wrote for the processing, the mulling over, the physical compulsion to put words to paper. I think of what I read in Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird, when I say that the act of writing itself is the pleasure and purpose.

Lammott encourages writers who are overly concerned with being published in this way: “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Yet sometimes I do write in order to remember: conversations, an incredible series of events, what he said to me when, the worst day EVER (all of them!), the best day ever, what I cooked when, what I did on trips… For the sake of honesty, I have to confess the sensation of flatness that I often feel reading about these things later on.

I’d like to consider this in a couple different ways.

We have to be good to ourselves as writers. I am excellent at tearing myself apart. Probably most of us are. But we have to fight against it, or we will be robbed of freedom and joy in expressing ourselves. In the sound words of Lamott: “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” The more we engage with writing, the more we participate– the more depth and direction we gain in our work.

Perhaps another answer is in the first quote from Nelson. I love how she talks about the editing process as streamlining incongruous thoughts so that “they are made to appear, at long last, running forward as one river.” In our journaling, we are presenting the raw material of our lives. We are unedited and unstreamlined. We can’t be discouraged when our journals don’t read like a best-seller, because they are of a completely different genre. I hope we see the beauty in that.