Finding The Zen In Writing

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

When I decided to start yet another blog, I struggled to find a name for it. My first blog, Suburban Sirens, was created when I decided that my 8-year hiatus from writing needed to end. The name was appropriate both as the Siren song that was calling suburban-mom me back to writing, as well as the sirens I fully expected to hear as a white van with barred windows pulled up in front of my suburban house to take me to a place with padded walls where I could continue to bang my head in peace. Eventually, though, I rationalized myself out of writing by concluding I was too busy. My posts became more and more sporadic, and the Sirens stopped beckoning.

My next blog was called Moms Into Adventure. It was devised as a vehicle to report on the many adventures in parenting and life that I planned to take on in an effort to transform my midlife crisis into a midlife free-for-all. From a Polar Plunge to adventure races to a burlesque class I felt I needed to take, I went out and tried new things and I wrote about them. It was fun for a while, and then I just got dog tired of coming up with adventures. It was exhausting being a human doing rather than a human being.

As the end of the year approached last year and I realized I was running out of money for adventures I would love to write about, I decided it was time to go in another direction. Perhaps the third time would be the charm? My previous two blogs had fizzled largely because I’d been unwilling to commit to a publishing schedule. So, I offered myself a challenge to write for 366 consecutive days. I’d been reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth. I found myself looking to become more grounded and reflective. I wanted to stop focusing on my next adventure and learn to enjoy the present moment, a task which has never been easy for me. I figured I needed to live in the now and try to find my zen. I also acknowledged that I needed to live a little now and then. The two ideas merged and thus was born Live Now and Zen, the perfect balance of my previous two blogs.

As I’m on day 318 of 366, I’m starting to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m going with my writing. I’ve learned a great deal about myself as a writer and as a person through my posts here. I think writing daily for nearly a year has forced me to accept my voice for what it is. I’ve had to determine what kind of writer I am. That writer, I’ve learned, is honest. I’ve learned that sometimes what I think is my best work impacts no one and something I feel was a waste of my time touches many. You never know what people might relate to. I’ve learned that some days I write schlock, and that’s okay. It happens. The mere act of writing is more important than the creation of a beautiful work of art. From continued practice comes growth, and while sitting around waiting for the idea the only thing you grow is moldy and stale. Sometimes it’s more important simply to show up. And, I’ve learned that it’s okay not to have millions of readers. Writing something that impacts one other person is more than enough.

I started to write this blog as a means to find the zen in my life, but I’m not sure that I’m any closer to achieving that than I was 300+ days ago. I still get aggravated, lose my temper with my children, and swear at idiot drivers. Now, though, I have a daily outlet for all that emotion. And while I’m no more zen in my life, I have become more zen about writing. This is not the zen I was looking for, but it’s what I needed. Writing is my thing. When I don’t write, I lose something of myself. So, I’m learning to write and I’m practicing. On day 367, I might take a day off for good behavior and to celebrate my achievement, but then it’s right back to it because writing is what I do…whether or not I do it well.

I Think, Therefore I Write

My process includes a laptop and my two bibles.

My new blog friend and comrade-in-arms, Amy, wrote an article yesterday inquiring about other writer’s “process” of writing. I read her post and wanted to leave her a comment about my process, but what I discovered in trying to flesh out my exact writing process is that I had no idea what is was. Funny how you can do something every day for 263 consecutive days and have no idea how you did it. Socrates would be disappointed in me if he were around to see how truly unexamined my life is, at least in this arena. So, I tried examining my process. What I found today was that I didn’t want to write. It’s impossible to determine your process if you can’t start it. Instead, I played on WordPress, changing the appearance of my two blogs rather than being willing to contribute any written work to them. Then I played some Words With Friends and Mind Feud before deciding that what I really needed to do was write another bit in my book, which I have finally started. It wasn’t until I started writing there that I realized what my process is. In lieu of a comment on your page, Amy, I find I must write an entire blog post about my process for you. This is probably more than you were looking for, but you’re a writer. You know how it is.

My writing process starts with thinking. Lots of thinking. Sometimes days, weeks, months of thinking. Ideas germinate in my head before I am willing to claim ownership to them by talking about them or writing them down. I am a thinker, first and foremost. As an introvert, writing is merely the means by which I am most comfortable relaying my thoughts. I rarely write anything on paper. Instead, I will peck notes into my iPhone for future reference. When I’m looking for something to write about, I will revisit my Notes. Sometimes I add quotes I’d like to use in a story. Sometimes I add topics to write about. Sometimes all I get in the Notes section is a vague kernel of an idea. Then, I think about it. I leave it. I come back to it. Then, one day, what I am supposed to do with that tidbit becomes clear and I begin writing. Today, I wanted to work on my book. The idea for it has been years in the making. It has morphed like a shape-shifter, revealing itself to me in myriad forms until it appeared the way I thought I could best extract it from my brain. When it’s all said and done, I’m lazy. I don’t want to write a word until I’m sure it’s what I truly want to say. I won’t waste my time until the story I want to tell exists clearly in my head.

Then, like a woman possessed, I will keyboard my thoughts onto the screen so I don’t lose them. (It’s so easy to lose thoughts once you hit middle age.) My friend, Chris, told me to “write from the heart and edit from the head.” That was the best writing advice I have ever received. So, that is what I do. Sad fact is, though, I’m not a great writer. I identify with James Michener who said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” My first drafts are rough. All my ideas are there, passionately written, but they are a mess. So, I rewrite. Luckily, I am an editor by trade. Editing is what I enjoy and is what comes easily to me. I move sentences. I reword them and rework them and piece them back together. My thesaurus and dictionary are my closest friends. Literally. They sit one foot from my MacBook as I edit, and I would never write a word without them.

I consider my work finished when I feel good about it. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I am finished because it’s midnight and I have to be up in six hours and this is all I have to offer. I have learned during these past eight months of blogging that it’s more important that I write than to love what I have written. I can’t become a better, more accomplished writer by thinking about writing. Writing is a process and, no matter what your process is, thinking about being a writer doesn’t make you one. I put words on a screen so I can legitimately claim to be what I know I am at heart. If I can mix philosophers here and toss in some slightly edited Descartes, the truth is that I think, therefore I write. That is the only way I know how.

Sometimes Even Thinking About Writing Is Hard Work

This is what my vacation looks like.

I spent all of today (plus two hours last evening) at an informational seminar geared toward helping aspiring writers publish their book. I heard about this seminar through a Facebook friend who has actually managed to do just that. He and his wife published their book called Have Kids — Will Travel, all about ways to see the world with your children without having to sell the family home to do it. With all the changes in the world of publishing today, with the proliferation of eBooks and with the possibilities created by the self-publishing industry, it got me to thinking that perhaps the idea of publishing a book of my own might not be such a lofty dream. So, Friday morning I boarded a plane to Salt Lake to attend this seminar. I wanted a chance to talk with other authors, to find out what has worked and not worked for them. I wanted to catch a glimpse of what I might be getting myself into before I invested hundreds (or, god forbid, thousands) of hours of my precious time here on this earth writing something that perhaps not one other person will ever read. I thought I would look before I leap.

Writing is tough. Unearthing your subject is difficult. Finding your muse is time consuming. Putting words onto a screen is work. Self-editing is tedious. Professional edits are heartbreaking. Revisions are exhausting. The entire writing process is tantamount to giving birth, but instead of the birthing process taking somewhere between a few minutes and 36 hours, writing a book can suck years out of your life. Years. Several authors I talked to today said their books took them between 6-8 years to complete. Wow. Am I really up for that? That’s a lot of freaking time to spend on something that may not ever earn me a greenback. At least at the end of my previous two deliveries I had another human life to show for my effort.

The main thing I learned today is that sometimes even thinking about writing is hard work. My head hurts. I learned a great deal over the eight hours I spent at Book Camp this weekend…how to format my manuscript, how to prepare it for submission to publishing companies, what options exist in self-publishing and eBooks, how to format a pBook, and ways to market and sell my work. I took copious notes on both paper and my laptop. I did research on my iPhone while listening to the instructors. There is so much for me to mull over. Not right now, though. Right now, all I need is a glass of wine to help me shut off my brain. So, since I am on vacation (my kids are at home with their very accommodating father while I take this personal time), I am going to find myself a state liquor store, pick up some take out, and settle down for the evening with a good book. After all, this journey was all about books. I should toast to that, right? If all goes well, maybe someday another woman will sit in her hotel room reading my book and while sipping her sauvignon blanc.