A few weeks ago, I finally saw the film “Wild”, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed starring Reese Witherspoon. The work is an account of Strayed’s solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trial after the death of her mother. The film, as well as her own story, was raw, disturbing, heart wrenching, scary and brave. Despite her struggles, both emotionally and (due to the hardships of the hike) physically, she wrote her story.
On a day like today – MONDAY – the writing demons like to prod me with their weekend talons. Although I love to write, I struggle finding words on the first day of the week with Sunday cobwebs on my mind.
Much like Flannery O’Connor’s quote above, I do not always know what I’m thinking until I focus into the zone of creative flow, where words come from a subconscious portal in my brain. I never really understand the impact of the work until I come back a few hours later and realize what I was trying to express.
It’s a condition I strive to find myself in everyday – despite the self doubt, the negative whispers and the tempting feeling of laziness. That trance-like place. In fact, I’m feeling it now as I write this.
In order to gain that flow, I have to show up to the desk and do the damn deed. Write like, as Cheryl Stayed has said, like a motherfucker.
Strayed wrote for a blog called The Rumpus under the nom de plume “Sugar” where she provided advice to writers. Back in 2010, a very frustrated lady writer named Elissa wrote about how she constantly compared herself to published writers. She lamented on how difficult it was to measure up to a David Foster Wallace or anyone who published before the age of 30. She was 26 and thought she was “pathetic”, “confused”, and “scared”. So self defeating. So unnecessary. She claimed she wrote like a girl – about lady things with no experience on life.
Pisses me off just thinking about it.
It pisses me off because I was just like Elissa, thinking you’re being so open and honest about how you think you’re a loser – when the only thing you’re doing is self fulfilling some dumb ass useless proficy.
Cheryl Strayed went straight and to the point with her reply.
How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of “I could have been better than this” and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you –,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do. And when people are here to do that they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.
So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.
Writing isn’t pretty. I hate to get all pretentious, because the following can be construed as such – – but writing is guts and toil. Writing is getting thoughts on paper even if you have nothing on your brain because life is getting in your way. Writing is putting ideas and creation down on paper or the computer screen despite what silly comparisons you’ve made to others.
I’m not Flannery O’Connor. I’m not Cheryl Strayed. I am me.
Writing is a constant struggle of self discipline and the fight against “resistant”. Writing is war.
Show up to the fight everyday. Be a motherfucker.