Lately, as my writing friends know, I’ve been struggling to produce new work. Since I graduated from my MFA program just over a year ago, I have produced exactly one essay that I have felt is good enough to send out — the rest of the new work I’ve done is still in a form that either isn’t working now, or might never work.
I have mentioned in this blog before that I get disappointed in myself when I sense that I’m not producing enough new work that is “good.” When this sort of thing happens, it is tempting to throw in the towel and take a break from the decision to try to write almost everyday (I find that trying to write every single day isn’t workable for me, so I leave it at almost every day). And sometimes I do think a break is a good way to take a rest and let new ideas form.
But if the break lasts too long, for me anyway, it gets easier and easier to fall out of the habit of writing on a regular basis. And then you can find yourself avoiding your desk (or kitchen…or coffee shop). You become more and more afraid that if you open up your notebook, or start up your computer, you’ll discover that you still can’t write a word.
One of my former teachers, Joy Castro, once talked about this issue in a workshop. She said that there is one basic thing that you have to do if you want to write…show up. Of course, you might show up only to find nothing happening. But then you just show up the next day. And the next. Why? Because nothing can happen if you don’t show up, but if you keep showing up, something will. What, I can’t say. But something will.
So lately, to push beyond the pattern I was in, I’ve been showing up regardless of how I feel. When nothing new seems to come, I’ve revised an old essay. And after working on one for a while, if it seems to be going nowhere, I pull up another. And yes, there have been days when I’ve just sat there and stared at the computer screen, trying to resist the temptation to check my email or log into Facebook (and not always succeeding).
But lo and behold, despite the tougher days, things have started to happen. After failing to make much out of a couple of old essays, one essay I began as a “free write” last October started to come to life. My hope, now, is that this piece will end up being my next “completed” essay.
By the way, I just looked up “lo and behold,” because I was curious about the origins of the phrase. Apparently ‘lo’ is a variation of an old English word that meant “look,” so the phrase means “look and behold.” One source said its first known use was in 1808, but I did find a couple of variations on its origin. (And I wonder why I never get anything done?)
But back to writing.
Being a writer is beginning to remind me of the years I spent on my old high school gymnastics team. Some gymnasts could do a lot of tricks right off the bat, some were better at some tricks than others, and some had to work long and hard to learn every trick. Of course everyone had to train to get better. But no matter who you were or how good you were, you had to follow one basic rule to stay on the team. You had to show up for practice.