Writers’ Whiplash

You try learning how to write without a teacher.  I am a mid career professional, a teenager’s parent, a mother’s only caretaker, a wife, friend, cousin, and the list goes on.  This is not the moment to run away to the Iowa Writers’ whatever-it’s-called (you know the one Hannah goes to in the HBO show Girls??) or to do an MFA at NYU.  So? I do what we do in this century. I listen to podcasts. I read books. I google. I go to low key writing classes where they don’t teach how to get published.  I try to put myself out there, and test the ground to see if my feet can withstand the terrain.

I gotta tell you – learning to write is a lot like whiplash. Listen to any 10 minutes of two or more authors each answering the same questions: Is it the first sentence or the last sentence that is the hardest to write? What is your biggest distraction? If you were to give advice to a new writer what would you tell them?  Where do you write? What time of day?  By hand? On a laptop? Etcetera. Etcetera.  You’ve heard them all before – the questions that is. The trouble is with the answers.

One says – write in the dark by yourself in your home.  The next – write in a coffee shop, the ambient sound is key.  Write and rewrite as you go: 10 strokes forward, 15 backspaces – that’s how you get the sentence crisp.   Get that full, first draft out, give yourself space to write poorly; then go back and rewrite from the beginning once you’ve gotten to the end.  Plan your plot. Let characters come to you as they will. Move scenes around – you never know what you are going to discover.  Seriously?

Is writing an adventure park? A pre programmed event? Some kind of spiritual unfolding or just the spinnin’ of a good yarn? What are these people talking about – personhood and how it finds its creative whatever – self, voice, vision, identity?  How is that ever going to work for me, and why do they tell it like it’s the gospel way to write? What if my writing G*d executes totally differently? What if I don’t have one – a writing G*D that is? Then what?

My thoughts are cloudy, and my neck is tight.  I can’t do what any of you do, because all of you tell me to do something different. So what now?  That, I think, is the core writer’s question actually: So What Now?  What is this Imagination? Resolution? Research? Story? Dialogue? Guidance? Restitution? Revenge? Scene? Setting? Story? Gestation? Service? I am writing?

By the way, did you notice? There are SOOOOO many books in the world.  It makes me wonder – why bother at all?  What new thing could be said?  Do I really believe we are all that different and unique and only my fingerprint ya ya ya…

If you asked me any of those questions above they ask “real” writers, I think I would say I write because when I don’t I only think about myself. Believe me – it is not that that bores me. I can keep myself busy for hours.  It is more that when I do that I am not a happy person.  I think I write for the same reasons others meditate or run or dance or sing or scream.  To not hear myself think.   To hear the hum that is otherwise deaf to me amidst the rumble of my own internal ranting.  I write to go beyond the here and now into the quiet vastness where life is of ease, and people find their way.  In the end I guess I don’t really want the advice, but I do want to know, do my words on the page matter to you? And does it matter if it matters (or if it doesn’t), if it matters to me?  Maybe that is the writing lesson I want to hear about.  Writers: how do you make your me matter on the page?

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of www.drstilldc.com