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On Writing 4

I do not find it hard to write every day.

Like the explorers of old whose journals have taught us about history, I feel hardwired to write things down, and when I’m traveling, even more. After a very late night with friends talking and arguing over Spanish politics and history, my head hums with ideas. I get up after 2.5 hours sleep, give Basil breakfast, and then sit down and type 1000 words. When we were in London a few weeks ago, I stayed up later than anyone else, writing about the party boats sliding by on the Thames outside the window, the book I was reading, and the meaning of losing oneself in a novel. When I’m at the park with Basil back home, I notice the conversations children have, or the group of nannies I see there every day, and later jot things down in my notebook on the way home.

Gathering material is not the hard part for me. The challenge is turning it into something I want others to read. This is why I blog, and why, since finishing my degree, I have started working more on the craft of writing. I have never had formal training in writing and I feel like I have a lot to learn.

Stephen King says, in his book On Writing, that if you want to be a writer, you should do two things: read a lot, and write a lot. So I read the latest Atlantic cover to cover, noticing how the essays are written. I play around with beginnings for an essay about my research on language and national identity. I re-read Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, and Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. I go through The Best American Essays 2012 and read the first paragraph of each essay and copy down the first sentence of a dozen. Then I work on my essay, trying to incorporate elements that the best writers use.

Everyone says that if you want to be a serious writer, you need to submit pieces for publication. I feel like I’m in kindergarten when I think about publication. Sure I show up and write, but who am I to publish something? Blogging is wonderful because it’s a place to put my writing out there, and experience how writing is a conversation. It’s a community where I can appreciate others’ writing, and be inspired. It’s a way of practicing the craft of writing, and support others in doing the same.

But blogging every day? I have been trying hard this month since joining Megsie in the challenge. And I am seeing how good it is. How it becomes more of a conversation with other blogging friends. How it has me trying harder to implement what I’m learning about essay writing into my posts. How it pushes me risk a little more, try a little harder.

So I get back on the horse and post, though I’ve missed a day. I think about what my goal will be after July.

And I keep writing, every day.

A Wider Angle 1

A morning at the Alcazar library, high above the old town. Sitting in an alcove facing a window, writing. Sitting in a sunny window drinking cafe con leche, reading. Grateful to be here.

Tackling “Perpetual Uncertainty” 1

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, p.xii).

This is true of research too, when the research is about life and meaning and our social world, as mine is. It’s the wonderful thing about my work, what makes me come back and keep working on my dissertation and imagining that I can dedicate myself to this work. While I was doing fieldwork last year in Barcelona, there were days where the writing and ideas and deeper meaning of what I was seeing were all coming together and flowing like swollen rivers in spring.

Yet it’s also true that writing in academia can be as uncertainty-provoking as any other kind of writing. You obsess and try to start and worry over whether your ideas are worth anything. You write ten different versions of the same first paragraph. You try and fail to institute a morning writing routine, and then you try again. You do other kinds of writing, hoping it will spark new ideas and ways to connect the academic work to questions and struggles people have in their real lives.

I’m in the midst of fall fellowship applications for my dissertation year, trying to get started on yet another iteration of a personal statement, selling who I am and what I do for far-away committees of people to evaluate. Maybe because of all the uncertainty of this process, this poem Anne Lamott quotes in Bird by Bird also resonated with me and made me laugh at the obsessions of the writing process (just substitute advisers for friends and approval for affection!):

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

(by Phillip Lopate,
Quoted in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, pp.11-12.)