• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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But If You Try Sometimes

So often I hear a writer say, “I have to make myself write.” I always bristle at this, even though I’ve said it myself. I bristle because I have this naive belief that “real” writers don’t have to make themselves write. That they have to write, are compelled to, no use of force required.  I’m thinking of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope. I used to know a writer who made a pact with another writer to motivate themselves. If they didn’t complete twenty pages a week, they had to clean each other’s toilet. Do you ever think if you’re having trouble writing that you should stop, leave it alone. Or is that a cop out, that you a have to push through it to get anywhere? And do you ever actually break through, push through, write a complex sentence that is so simple, or a simple sentence that is complexity incarnate. Is is like finally mastering a drum pattern or brush stroke?

Do you “make” yourself write and what does that look like.

45 Responses

  1. It often looks like a car stuck in a sand pit, spinning its wheels and tossing grit everywhere, desperate for traction.

    But if I spin long enough, or stop and shove something under the front tires, or even throw it in reverse, I eventully break free and get moving.

    So far.

  2. For me, writing is complicated. Sometimes I have to push through. Others I need to back off. It’s taken me years to get a good read on when to do what. I do know that, in order for me to be really productive, I need to stay in the flow. Which means cutting many other things out. I know I should have some kernel of balance, or, failing that, the ability to fake it once in awhile, but that just doesn’t happen.

  3. I often journal to make myself write. In my current project I had to type out the actual story and a lot of ranting and raving! When I went back for my first round of editing I realized 10 percent was the actual story and almost all of it was me complaining about work! I had to get that all out to be able to tease out my story (which is about being pregnant). I have to do that a lot since I haven’t had a serious writing project in years.

  4. I don’t think it’s any different from doing anything else that’s good for you (and by extension, others). Push-ups, practicing the ukulele, my daily two-hour chanting meditation—I rarely feel</em like doing these things (except for the ukulele), but I always feel better after I've done them. My problem is that I can see the consequences of not exercising a lot more clearly than I can the consequence of not writing.

  5. Crap, sloppy HTML.

  6. I think routine is crucial for me with writing as it is with everything. It’s like going to the gym, even when I don’t feel like doing it I KNOW I will feel better after.

    PS: Thanks very much to all of you for your support and well-wishes on Friday–it meant a lot.

  7. I make myself write “better.” Whatever that means. Really, when I look at a shitty sentence I wrote, I want to throw in the towel in a perfectionist hissy fit. It makes me want to quit an go find my true tiny talent. And then I realize that I have no talent, tiny or otherwise. Only this propensity to follow a daydream until it makes sense. To make the sentence not suck. To make it say what I really want it to say. It’s not that it’s “hard” it’s just that it comes at the expense of so many other things. Like having a house that doesn’t qualify for an episode of “Hoarders,” or actually responding to my kids’ questions instead of pretending I registered what they said. So I do it in fits and in starts. Write : Frolic. Write : Mother. Write : Cook. Work : Write. When it comes to writing I’m a functional addict, sneaking it half-assedly from the sofa cushions while the babies sleep.

  8. Sometimes, yes, I am rolling with it and about to get to some sort of crux. That’s when I shy away and consider cleaning the bathroom. But usually I wait, drink an espresso and struggle through, and that cadence comes unfolding towards me in a petalled rush.

    Lovely Velasquez.

  9. Of course I make myself write. It’s practice. It’s a discipline, like anything else. But the force that happily pulls me out of bed without an alarm when all about me is still and dark and in suspended consciousness? That’s something irresistible.

  10. I’ve been an every day writer forever and don’t feel good unless I do it. Soemtimes it is super productive and sometimes it’s flailing around. Right now it’s super productive and work is super busy so…conflict!

  11. I write because I’m a dreamer and I’m dreaming fantastic. I want to make those dreams come true. No writing, no realisation of dream. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

  12. I rarely relate to Betsy’s posts, but this one struck a chord.

    I have a great concept for a nonfiction book about the closing days of WWI. It would emphasize the tragedy of that war, the “why did this even have to happen?” angle. No one else has told this particular story, I’m confident. I seriously think it’s very marketable – general reader type stuff – and even have an idea for the jacket art that would really capture the essence of the story. I began gathering general background material for research some time ago.

    I have since done squat with it.

    On the other hand, I have no problem writing on my blog (that almost no one reads) about things that really fascinate or inspire me in the moment. I don’t have to make myself do it. It’s fun. I feel like I’m playing hooky from work. I even review, edit, and admire my writing before pressing the publish button. But for me, it’s not the language so much as the subject.

    Nothing wrong with making yourself write and some are quite successful at it – Anne Lamott for instance. But it would sure be a lot easier if I was pulled to the material. And while I think the material for my concept would eventually pull me in, I have a day job and family. Writing is for people with lots of time on their hands – right?

    • One of my friends has a day job, a wife, and twins who are about a year and a quarter old. He’s still managing to write. During the workday, if work is slow; during lunch, when he usually takes his laptop to the company cafeteria for the full hour he’s allotted; at home some evenings or elsewhere on occasional weekend afternoons, by arrangement with his wife (who may have her own project going)

      Most people have some choice, whether short-term, long-term, or both, over how they spend their time. Saying “I’m busy and don’t have time” won’t get one anywhere. Saying “I’m busy but I’m in charge of my time” (or words to that effect) might allow one to rearrange the calendar blocks.

  13. I don’t make myself write. Myself writes. A central aspect of my being in the world.

    When I was younger, for long stretches of time I made myself not write. Too high, too drunk, too strung-out. Couldn’t put down the pipe. Couldn’t get up off the floor. Couldn’t get the mind out of the shadows, the fear, the hurt. Glad I got all through all that. I’m a better man when I write. And a better writer when I’m a man.

  14. I don’t have to make myself write. I have to make myself move my ever-widening ass over to this chair and work. Sometimes it’s so much easier to just sit on the couch – especially when I’m doubting my abilities.

  15. Bum glue is helpful. In other words, airy-fairy feelings aside, putting my butt to the chair and getting down to business. Without feeling the least bit compelled, I’ve churned out some good work. Conversely, I have thought, this is going to be a fabulous writing session and been disappointed. So the bottom line for me (love the pun!) is to sit in my chair and write.

    I too envy the souls that follow a burning compulsion. That, however, ain’t me. But I don’t believe it makes me – or you – any less the writer.

  16. In the words of one of my friends (who admittedly said this about backpacking): you feel so good when you’re done.

    I have to make myself write every fucking time. And I’m fine with that.

  17. as to whether the quality of my work differs when I sit down and write because I want to vs when I sit down and write because I ought to, I don’t think it does. I used to tell myself it did. I had a whole theory revolving around my menstrual cycle. Best writing days were when I was ovulating and the first few days before the onset of menses. Anything I wrote the day I started and the first few days following sucked. Or so I thought. But the fruits of my labor haven’t supported that theory. There have been times though, most often when I’m at the end of a scene or chapter I’m revising, when I don’t know what comes next. And when I sit down to write nothing of value comes to the page, so I read instead…from a stack of books that help jump-start me. I think it’s still important to show-up, even if the words don’t. By bringing your full focus to the plot point, or whatever it is that’s got you blocked, you are opening your mind up to the solution…which for me, most often comes when I’m doing something else, driving, drying my hair. There’s some zen koan or proverb or whatever you call it about a stone breaking on the hundreth blow, how the preceding 99 were as necessary as that last whack.

  18. No, I’m not Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong: maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer. The knot inside me says I’m cut out to be something. I’ve tried music and painting. I didn’t have to push but I wasn’t worth a damn. Now I have to push. Is that good or bad? Who the hell knows?

  19. I try to make myself write. It never works out well. I make stupid, self-helpy deals–write this and you can have that, blah blah. The problem is that I don’t respect myself on non-writing days, so why would I feel compelled to live up to my end of the bargain? I totally need a toilet deal. May not have needed the qualifier about writing days, either.

  20. I am one who feels compelled to write; I have so many ideas and words that will write themselves in my head, I would scream if I didn’t get them out. Some types of writing flow naturally for me. For instance, I write a monthly editorial column, and whenever I sit down to write it, it always spills forth gracefully. If I try to force it, it doesn’t go well; I have to wait for the inspiration (thankfully, it always comes by deadline). My first memoir was easy to get down also. The first fiction attempt, although living in my head for years, was not as easy. I had no idea what I was doing. Fiction and nonfiction are such different animals. I rewrote my novel, then gave it to a professional editor. She proceeded to rip it to shreds. I couldn’t even look at it for months. Then I looked at it but became overwhelmed and procrastinated about when I might get back to it. I recently joined a writer’s group which forces me to work on it (because in my head, I am still dragging my feet every week). Our group members commit to bringing up to 10 pages every week to our meetings. Being forced has actually worked in this way, on this project. I feel progress, and I feel good about it. I know if I don’t get through this process, I will never be able to do fiction, and I have a lot of projects in my head. Being a writer has always been my dream and my passion. I love the nonfiction within me, but I want to honor the fiction side as well.

  21. I’m compelled to write, at least in my working journal. Books are another matter. Nineteen versions and 300K journal-words into my second novel, it’s time to break out a winch, a crowbar, and perhaps a rabid minister of the lord.

  22. Compelled to write? Yes. Compelled to sit my ass in the chair? Not so much. The battle betwixt these 2 rages daily.

  23. i have to make myself get out of bed in the morning… you can imagine where it goes from there.

  24. Twenty pages a week? I could never.

  25. Not writing is not an option.

  26. What I’d really like to do is drink and eat potato chips and have everyone love me. Instead I force myself to write because the other way I get fat and depressed and start hating everyone. If I write, there’s a chance I’ll write something that people will like, and then maybe I’ll get the love I’m after.

  27. I only write if it bubbles out on its own. It doesn’t work for me to sit down and force myself through it. If I do that, the writing never works. Does it really work for anyone? Sometimes days, weeks, even months go by, and I don’t write a word. Then everything comes together and I’ll be ready again. I actually get a little burning ache in my gut that feels almost like lust. Yesterday I wrote 25 pages. And it’s working. Being able to type as fast as I can think helps. I’m on a roll again and it feels goooooooooooood.

  28. I feel that writing is the alchemy of the soul, and that sitting at the computer enacts a spiritual communion with the Seraphic Stories Within. I open myself to the Word, and ten hours later, when my spirit returns from the akashic plane, I discover twenty or thirty pages on my screen. Reading them is a blessing and an elevation.

    Effort is for squalid, trivial pastimes like carpentry and diagnostic sonography and teaching kindergarten. None of the really ennobling acts require practice or discipline. Writing issues forth effortlessly from the pure, depthless artesian spring of the Self. Like narcissism and self-pity and getting fatter and sweatier.

  29. Never push. Step back and wait for divine intervention.

  30. Just returned from a presentation that explored the concept of “filtering out the noise” in order to focus on The Goal. It was filled with all the easy, sports-themed analogies one would expect at a business seminar. Not being a sports-minded person, I never-the-less understood that the speaker was trying to update the basic concept of self-discipline. Heck. No magic, no pill, no special blend of coffee to make effort seem more effortless.

  31. I wrote my twenty pages. Who’s coming over to clean my toilet?

    • Good question. Today I had an electrician here rewiring my entire kitchen. He needed constant supervision, the clumsy bastard. So no toilets need to be cleaned here today.

  32. I don’t have a problem with not being a writer. It’s the willingness give in to the desire to write that makes my life complicated.

  33. I don’t have a problem with not being a writer. It’s the times when I give in to the desire to write give in to the desire to write that makes my life complicated.

  34. Is making yourself write the same as hating yourself for not writing? Then yes.

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