Last week was a good week. I made progress on a chapter that was giving me problems, and while I’m not sure I fixed the problems, I know I took a chapter that was once seven pages long and doubled it. I’m still not sure what this chapter is about but I have a lot more to work with and I’m much closer to heart of it. I’m finding my way through. And I had a coffee date that went well, followed by a flurry of flirty text messages…
This week was not so good. I have been trying to work on two very messy early draft chapters that have a lot of overlap. Each chapter needs to do something different, say something different, propel the narrative forward and instead I feel like I’m repeating myself. I don’t know which scenes need to be there, which ones should go or if I need to write different scenes.
So I did what I do: I made a list of all my chapters. I noted the scenes in each chapter and I noted themes. When I realized I had 13 chapters I thought it was so poetic because my mother died when I was 13 so in my mind it made sense, but I still have no idea how to fix these chapters except to combine them into one chapter.
This morning when a friend posted on Facebook an announcement of a success, instead of being happy, I felt this incredible stab of jealousy then a wave of self-doubt overcame me. I did an inventory of everything I didn’t have, every award I didn’t win, and every rejection letter I’ve received.
I stared at the pages strewn across my desk and I stared at the blank document on my computer. It didn’t help that the flirty text messages stopped two days ago. I was left feeling not good enough.
Somehow I found myself reading the Dear Sugar column where Cheryl Strayed advised a young writer to “write like a motherfucker.” And while that phrase has become an anthem for writers, there was lot more to that column that resonated with me. Strayed wrote of her own struggles with writing:
I’d finally been able to give it [everything] because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing…. I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.
And some advice:
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.
I was reminded that I need to let go of my grandiose ideas about my book. I need to stop comparing myself to other writers, those published ones I admire so much, my friends who are experiencing their own successes, and I just needed to write, to dig deep.
Yesterday my friend Elizabeth tagged me on an internet meme that’s going around: The Next Big Thing. This afternoon, after wallowing in my insecurity I started my own response and began to write. While I wasn’t working on my memoir, one of the questions is “Who or what inspired you to write this book?” Answering the question reminded WHY I also need to write like a motherfucker.
I can tell you I’m writing to memorialize my mother, to memorialize my father, to tell someone what I know about grief and loss, to hopefully let one person know they are not alone in their grief….. but the bottom line is that even though it’s hard, I need to write this book because it’s harder to not write this book.
And I need to remind myself everyday that I am good enough–and so are you.