I’m going to pretend we’re all sitting around a fireplace in a rustic lodge in northern New Mexico. It’s cold outside, but our mugs are full of warmth so we don’t mind. In fact we appreciate the cold. It is bringing us together. A light dusting of late autumn snow blankets everything we see shimmering in the moonlight outside. It’s another world, removed from everyday concerns. For now, we are just here, and it is enough.
In this place, I can tell you my story of becoming a writer and I can hear you with a quiet, open heart. I’ll begin with my story and over time, I look forward to hearing yours, whether you have been writing for years, months or are just beginning to consider letting your words find the page. I look forward to hearing you whether your words are not words at all but colors on canvas, stitching on cloth, music that insists you listen and record, or any creativity that calls you to offer beauty to the world. I believe we all have such a calling, even if our art is created in the kitchen and vanishes with dinner each night or a love for organizing the numbers of the world into systems that allow us to clearly see and maneuver the technical aspects of life. After all, we must eat to survive and technology allows the artists and everyone else the option to improve our world if we so choose.
On a manual typewriter, I wrote my first story at age eight. It was about a popcorn-eating, party-loving monster named Hugo, pronounced huge-o. Unfortunately Hugo was unaware of the expanse of his feet and crushed people in his merriment. I don’t remember how that one was resolved, just that I was indignant when my dad read the story aloud and mispronounced Hugo’s name. I wrote my first poem when I was ten. It was a sad affair involving two friends crossing the street when tragedy strikes. One friend is killed and the poem goes on to describe how the living friend copes. Beyond those two pieces the details are hazy. I simply knew, from a very young age that I am a writer and that I must share the words I gather.
Until I was twenty-one I thought a finished piece ought to be the product resulting from every sitting at the keyboard, or with my spiral note book. Then a miracle happened. I began reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. She teaches, quite reasonably, that one must allow themselves time to simply practice writing with no aim in sight but the act of spreading thoughts out like water. An athlete must practice to improve and is, thankfully, not always in competition. A singer often takes voice lessons and sings just for fun, just to listen to the beautiful sound, but she is not always performing. So it is with writing. One must practice, be allowed to make many mistakes and have time to “listen” to his voice without judgment. A writer too must practice and need not always be composing for an audience, or to create a specific piece. That freedom is essential in the process.
Natalie Goldberg shares specific rules for writing practice as well as many insights into the process and exercises to help guide our thoughts as we write. Rather than listing her rules here, I encourage anyone who wants to write, or add another tool to their writing life kit, or just have a kind path into their own mind, to obtain a copy of Writing Down the Bones and dive right in to this freeing and enlightening process.
It’s been twenty years since I adopted Natalie as a mentor. In that time I’ve filled more spiral notebooks than I can count, married a beautiful and peculiar man who makes me laugh almost every day, and become a mother to two boys who are now nine and thirteen. When my children were small and I needed my hands free for their care and tending, I did not write. It was a difficult decision to take a years-long break but I reminded myself that so much as I allowed myself to be present, I was gathering material I could later bring to the page. In 2010, I picked up my new laptop and I knew. The time to write had returned.
In what I consider to be Phase Two of my writing life, I learned, or one might say relearned, the next step, to add again the goal of writing finished pieces. Through writing in two blogs over the course of three years and through feedback and persistence I began to hear and share my voice more clearly even when I had a defined goal, but more importantly I began to hear gentle promptings from what some may refer to as my muse. I see it more as a connection with many souls who have passed, many muses, souls who delight in being able to carry on their creative gifts in this world through the hands and hearts of the living. When this happens, writing is a prayer and I am nearly always deeply moved and happily surprised by the poem, story, scene or whatever I have just painted with words.
Since the fall of 2012 I have been in Phase Three. Mind you, it is not a giving up of the previous phases but an added piece to a growing tapestry. This phase began shortly after my mom passed in July of the same year following a rapid illness. She is also a writer, and though we approach our craft from completely different angles and write for different reasons, we have always respected the others’ abilities and been each others’ main supporters. So I should not have been surprised when, just days, maybe only couple weeks after she passed, it was clear as the midday sun that she was offering me a challenge. Do more than simply collect words. Do something with them. Become a published author.
I felt about like this boy looks
I was happy thinking of writing a book “one day when” but it was a future fact, easily put off indefinitely. It took more courage and determination than almost any other endeavor in my life, but I was not going to tell her that no, I was not ready. I would trust that through making a beginning and a decision readiness would come. And it did, largely as the result of powerful support from friends in this world and loved ones in the next.
Thanks to the new world of epublishing, specifically through Kindle and Nook, I had a tangible way to carry out my mother’s directive if you will. In the autumn of 2012 Love Story: A Walking Meditation, a collection of poetry and The Best of Baking Bakers Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Cookbook both became a reality. Then in February of this year, Here Now: Waking Up to My Life, a collection of short stories, scenes and insights, was born.*
Now let’s take a moment to add another log to the fire, to warm up our hot chocolate, coffee and tea then sit together a while longer, for there is more to be shared, though my tale is told for the time being. I could always add another detail, another memory, but now it’s your turn if you have a story you would like to tell us, a story of your creative journey or your hopes of beginning one.
The above links are for Kindle. All three books are also available for Nook.