Long time, no write.
Everyone said, when you finish the MFA you’ll need a rest. Give yourself a break! Don’t worry about it if you don’t write for a week or two. You deserve it! Relax!
But not-writing for a week turned into three weeks, and then bam!, it was three months.
So let’s talk about resuming and sustaining a writing practice. There are two levels to it: the practical, sit-down-and-do-it level. And there’s the existential level, the raison d’etre. Why write when the world is on fire? Who cares?
Paul Kingsnorth, in his essay, “The Great Work: Alchemy and the Power of Words, in “Emergence” magazine, addresses the existential level for me:
Language, written language especially, is a peculiar, powerful, dangerous, and ultimately mysterious human gift. Written words cause ripples in the fabric of reality. The words in the Bible alone may have caused more death, brutality, and oppression, and more love, charity, and redemption, than any other collection of writing in human history. What are the Song of Solomon or the Book of Revelation if not powerful incantations? What is a psalm but a magical verse?
What do we mean by magic? Aleister Crowley famously defined it as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.” To spell, in this sense, is to cast a spell. All writers, I think, should take this notion seriously. A spell is a form of words which summons, binds, and transmits some strange energy: some energy which, in ways we cannot reasonably explain, has an influence on mind and matter.
I struggle to claim that when I sit at my writing desk I want to “cause ripples in the fabric of reality.” But I do. A story that will expand another’s perception of themselves, of their neighbor, or, better, of their enemy isn’t the only work that we need to undertake, but writing stories is work I am uniquely suited to. Perhaps you are, too. Let’s claim it and put our pens to paper. The world needs our stories.
While that’s all well and good, we are still confronted with the practical aspect of writing. Here are some of my tried-and-true momentum-making writing practices:
> Writing for the three-five minutes while coffee/tea/whatever is brewing, first thing in the morning. This is often a time when I access my dream-state, and it’s often enough to kick-start more writing post-coffee.
> Setting aside half an hour every day to be at my writing desk. While I don’t have to write, the only things allowed on my desk for this period are my paper and pen (or laptop, with no internet access).
> Reading one poem aloud and using its most delicious-on-my-tongue line as the start for a timed write.
> Open a book at random, plunk my finger on that page and use that sentence as a line of dialogue.
> From Priscilla Long: write in the same space for at least a week, ideally longer, up to a month, and describe the space every day.
> Pay myself a dollar every day I write.
> Join a writer’s group. Yes, that is supposed to be in italics. We writers need other writers for accountability, support, feedback, inspiration, conversation, drinks, laughter, tears, and camaraderie. It can be online, it can be in-person, it can be through an MFA or through a group that meets in a church basement. Find your people.