What stands in the way of writing

105053-518385-thumbnail.jpgI cannot find my copy of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and it's making me a little frantic. Finding this book is not negotiable. I need it for the workshop I'm teaching on Wednesday night. I need it because it's one of the books I return to again and again to remind myself of why it is that I write. It also reminds me that my wonky, circuitous relationship with writing is every bit as valuable as it is on the days I don't struggle to just make a single, coherent sentence.

The title of this workshop has been changed more than once over the last few years. Each time I teach the session, I believe the title fails to do justice to the material we cover. This time around it's entitled "Journal: Enhance Your Experience." Once more I know it is a weak title, and once more I remind myself that what is more important is what happens in the session itself, not what I call it.

This morning before I discovered Bird by Bird was (currently) missing, I read from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.  (Link to New Edition) With each passage I read, I became increasingly excited to share this remarkable woman with my workshop participants. Goldberg's writing about writing nurtured my feeble beginnings long ago, and other participants have found her equally inspiring. From her chapter, "More About Mondays," she writes: "The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living rooms and porches, backyards and grocery stores?" I reread these books because they remind me  to put into practice the ideas shared by both of these authors, my teachers for many years. The ideas that:

  • If you want to write you must "just do it."
  • Publication doesn't make us writers. Writing makes us writers.
  • Writing is not glamorous as some would have us believe. But to some of us it is vital, in spite of the missing glamour.
  • Writing is, for many, a spiritual practice. It centers us and leads us back to what we know is True.

And now, two hours after beginning this piece and allowing far too many distractions, I also know that what they and other such teachers have told us...what they are hoping we will understand...is true: It is not enough to want to write, or to call ourselves writers, or to imagine "the writer's life." Even when writing is in our souls, at the core of what propels us forward in life, we will also often resist it every step of the way. Between successful writing sessions, I sometimes focus on anything that can possibly distract me from the simplicity of the words pouring out of me. Resistance to "my original activity of most importance" will becon to me with urges I then justify to myslf quite convincingly:

  • I need a fresh glass of water, immediatly.
  • Have I yet sent a response to that Exceedingly Important Email?
  • Oh look! This client really needs a response right now. But it won't take more than a couple of minutes to respond.
  • Of course I should take this phone call from my sister. She's sick and needs to talk to me. And she might need some soup!
  • And, of course, I simply must find my missing book!
Goldberg and Lamott have both taught me that while the other matters of life are certainly important, we ultimately have to put them aside and Just Write. Even if I can't find my missing book right now, and even if I don't know how many people will attend my workshop and even if I prepare for the workshop with one theme in mind and standing in front of this group I discover that they're best guided in an entirely different manner than I'd anticipated. My writing will carry more authenticity when I've barrelled through that resistance. And so will my workshop on Wednesday. Because in the end it's not a workshop about how important writing in a journal can be. It's a workshop on the value of actually writing in that journal, and pushing through all the distractions and hesitations and self-limiting criticisms that keep us from coming to the page even when we don't feel like it, or even when something else seems momentarily more important. Because I truly believe in what I teach. Believing it means I must do it. And do it again. When the writing is effortless and perhaps even more importantly...when it's not.