Rogue Ink

April 2, 2008

Quotes of the Day. And a nod to my Tessa.

Filed under: Quotes,Writing — Tei @ 1:09 am
Tags: , , , ,

My dear friend Tessa is distressed with me lately, because she was evidently unaware of this blog’s existence and she is of that ken of kindred who needs to be aware of all my doings, lest our bond be withered into naught but cobwebs and false promises. To make it up to her, I’m quoting a poem I just wrote her, line by line, over IM on Gmail, because that’s the depth to which romance has deteriorated in this day and age, and giving her a little more of the tidbits from Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird, which is where I got the poem in the first place (she didn’t write it, a guy named Philip Lopate did; Lamott quoted him) because I think it will make her laugh.

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

Anne Lamott is the only person who has ever made that particular comparison to writing before, and I appreciate it immensely, because here is the other thing she said, actually about writing itself, and more specifically, how to go about it:

You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.

This is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of what happens when a writer sits down to write that I have ever heard. Many writers will tell you that writing is not fun, that nobody sits down gracefully, head held aloft and hair pinned back by a pencil stuck crossways through it, settles fingers on the keys with the air of a concert pianist and begins to craft art in words. Most writers will tell you that. What most writers won’t tell you is that writing is actively painful, for most of us, that it is all we can do to sit down every day, and that the only reason we go through it is that there seems to be no other way it is right to live.

Being a writer is a lot like what I used to imagine it would be like to be a medieval knight. There’s the romantic image of dragons slain, glory won, riding back into town triumphant with the sun on your armor and the townsfolk cheering. What it actually looks like is mud, and mud, and more mud, and finally a small pool of water just before the dragon, which you then fight in the midday sun until you are nearly half-dead with exhaustion alone, not to mention the raw cord of muscle you can see grinning at you through the wound in your arm, and when the scaly creature before you finally succumbs it vomits blood and bile all over you as it goes down, and you lie there in the field smelling feces and copper and your own filthy body, until you can summon the will to drag yourself back to that pool of water, and when you manage to slog your way back through all the mud to the town it is long past midnight, and all the townsfolk are asleep, and you fall asleep on the doorstep of an old woman, who might give you an apple and a soft word of thanks in the morning, if you are very lucky, if she is kind.

That is what writing is like. A lot of mud, and pain, and a kind word here and there like balm, like grace.



  1. Nope.

    I’ve never understood this “writing is pain” stuff.

    Writing is easy. I’ve never been at a loss for words. Never. Well, hardly ever. Maybe sometimes, but the desperation doesn’t last long. Not for days, anyway. Certainly never more than a week, and I’ve never, ever felt like screaming.

    At least not so loudly that the neighbors would notice.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 9, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  2. Heh. You’re just everywhere, aren’t you?

    Writing for blog: easy.
    Writing for business: not easy, but also not painful.
    Writing for fiction: equivalent to the pain voiced by the man in black when he made the sound of ultimate suffering.

    I am not a poet, but I am told by poets that their pain is comparable to the fiction folk.

    Comment by Tei — April 9, 2008 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

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