by Joyce DiPastena
Some days…too many days…I don’t really feel like a writer. Why? Because while I might walk around all day thinking about all the things I want to write about when I have time, longing in the deepest heartfelt way for those rare moments when I can sit down at the computer and allow all my wondrous ideas to flow like water from my fingertips onto the screen…suddenly, when that moment finally actually appears, all my longings abruptly disappear. Instead, I find myself faced with an equally heartfelt longing to be doing absolutely anything else than finally releasing my muse. In fact, that is the moment when I am absolutely convinced that I have no muse at all, and what was I thinking, imagining that I was a writer, when writing is suddenly the very last thing I want to do anymore!
This Tuesday, I will be giving a presentation on my book, Loyalty’s Web, at our local public library as part of our town’s celebration of the Kearny Library’s 50th anniversary. While jotting down ideas for my presentation and wandering through my personal library looking for inspiration, I came across a book I once loved but had not looked at for a very, very long time. It is called, Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers, by Susan Shaugnessy. Thumbing through the book, I re-read the first meditation, remembering it as the reason I bought the book, the meditation being such a perfect description of the way my personal writing muse once worked. I felt a bit of sadness, because that sort of writing seemed to belong to my past, and I miss it, and am still struggling to find my way back to that part of my writing again.
But then I glanced away from the meditation to the introduction. It was filled with phrases I’d highlighted for reasons long forgotten. Until I read through them again, and then they hit me like a thunderclap of memory and revelation. Here are a few of the phrases I had marked:
“What really goes on in the life of a ‘real writer’—discipline, working against resistance, and a crazy kind of faith.
“Every day, I think: ‘Today’s the day I won’t be able to do it.’ Most days, I drag myself down to where I write. I stare at the computer screen with a sinking and skeptical heart. Then I put my fingers on the keys. Most days, after the first sentence or two, the story comes, emerging from mysterious depths.
“Unless you are one of the very few, you [too will] face resistance every day. Why? Nobody really knows. It seems to be an integral part of the drive to write—a shadow you can never shake.
“Writer’s resistance (a term I like better than ‘writer’s block’) is persistent, so we must be persistent. We need to work with it a little every day. We need to recognize that it is not a personal demon, but one almost universal to writers.”
How many days—nay, years—had I fought my own resistance in the past? How many times had I—how many times do I still sit down at the computer, and say to myself, “Today’s the day I won’t be able to do it”? How could I have forgotten the comfort, the reassurance I first felt when I read the words above, realizing for the first time that it was not “just me”, and that battling resistance every day was not, as I’d feared, a sign that I was no longer a writer, but rather evidence that I AM a writer.
Those same fears have resurfaced in great force in my life, frightening me, blocking me from accomplishing what I might, because of that convincingly deceptive voice, “If I were really a writer, I’d sit down eagerly at the computer every day and words would flow like water from my mind and fingers.”
But now I know…or rather, I remember…that the truth is, indeed, just the opposite. Being a writer is sitting down however reluctantly and fighting through that resistance until I rediscover the joy of writing. I do not usually have to wait long for it, once I actually start pounding out words. In fact, once I have begun, I usually find myself much more reluctant to stop than I ever was to begin in the first place.
This has been the missing key to unlocking the discouragement I have been feeling for so long. A key now rediscovered, and hopefully not to be lost again. “A cazy kind of faith”, Shaugnessy said. But maybe not so crazy to us. Faith, we are taught, is an action word. And faith is what I need to exercise every day when I sit down at the computer. Not faith that “words will flow like water”, but faith that if I will only push through those few moments of resistance, joy in writing will come afresh.
Thank you, Susan Shaugnessy and Alligators. Thank you for reminding me that I am a writer, and that I am not alone.