When Natalie Golderg told me, in the late 80s, that I was a writer because I write, and not because I've been published, her validation shifted everything for me. The words I then-religiously poured into my journals had to do with recounting my life's events and the things I wanted. Not yet goals, then mostly dreams and fantasies. But mostly I just wrote about my life. My journal was like a diary.
In August of last year, I started an anonymous blog that was rather a lot of fun. In it I wrote both true and fabricated stories that had no place here on my personal blog. I was looking for a specific kind of outlet that I hadn't yet created for myself in my life as a writer. A month later, after having lovingly poured hours and hours into the development of the site that had almost immediately begun receiving positive feedback by those who read what I wrote there, I killed it. My reasons were many, but one of the main reasons had to do with wanting to be able to take credit for my words. We put a lot of ourselves into the things we write. Why, then, not be able to say, "I wrote this" to anyone who cares to know?
Within a week of putting a stop to that blog, I began writing my first novel. The novel I've imagined writing since I can remember. And since that time, I've steadily woven my story, added new characters, changed some facts, removed a plot-line or two. At more than 31,000 words, I'm well on my way.
Which is why someone whose life isn't so steeped in the use of words might find it ludicrous that less than 3 weeks ago, I started writing another book of a different kind. And at more than 27,000 words in this new project, I'd say I'm well on my way there, as well.
One has nothing to do with the other. Or so I believe. But now that I'm reading Natalie again, I'm reminded that it probably does. Becasue everything has to do with everything else. These words all flow from my mind, anxious to be woven into the sentences that will tell the stories I need to "get out." My job is to get them out, and also to keep them straight. To determine what goes where.
Natalie tells me to use original detail and to tell the truth. Her words are often with me now, weaving through my ordinary days in such a way that it's like she's my co-worker, looking over my shoulder. This imaginary companion asks me, "What do you think about that? and "What if you tried it this way?" She asserts, "You should write that down, you know."
And so my mind keeps returning to the green worm I pulled from my hair on Monday night. It was probably a caterpillar, but you can be certain that this distinction does not make such a discovery any less alarming, in context. Again I see the way it looked curled there on the red sheet, the overhead light cutting the soothing darkness that had enveloped me moments earlier, before I'd run my hand along my head and discovered the distinct presence of Something That Should Not Be In My Hair. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn just how alarming it is to feel something at once hard and soft - a living ball in your hair - as you lay on your favorite pillow.
There is no place for that green critter in either of my books and still many times as I write, he visits my mind, demanding to be shared. Here he is again today, as he was then, laying there after I knocked him onto the bed, and afterward gone when I flicked him far away from me into a place I have yet to discover. Is the little green guy still hanging around? How long can they exist separate from the comforting familiarity of a swaying leaf? How did he get there in the first place? I'm nearly certain I never even left the house that day, and so had I brought him in with me when I walked beneath so many trees the day before? Will I unwittingly find him another day when I step on him with bare feet, and scream like I most certainly would do, in disgust, at the unexpected sensation of mooshed worm on the carpet? And why can't I just let this little worm be?
Because, I've decided, I needed him to teach me something. I needed him to help me recapture the "original detail" that Natalie Goldberg writes about. There is no obvious place for green caterpillars in either of my books, but there is a place for the unexpected present he brought me. This is a wee gift of the lessons in what it takes to tell a story, to describe a moment in time so that another can see it.
According to Natalie Goldberg, the more I write, the better I'll become at it. I believe her. One day, both these books will be published. The "me" of today wonders what then? Will others follow? Will I, instead, have satisfied the goal enough that I will put down the desire for more? Or did the sheer act of beginning that one novel open up something inside me that will lead to far more books I never knew I needed to write?
It's gonna' be fun to find out!