Strangely, Writing About Writing

wood road outside of the mill city museum, in minneapolis, minnesota

It feels strange to be writing so much about writing. I’m not qualified to offer writing advice. I can echo Brenda Ueland and Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg, trusting they have the necessary amount of wisdom and “authority,” but who am I? What have I done to give my words any weight?

But of course we all have something to say and teach, right? Our struggles are educational, and we can help each other find the way.

An aunt — or a sister? — shared Natalie’s Writing Down the Bones with me. Ms. Lettmann assigned Anne’s Bird by Bird in a college writing class. I thought I saw somewhere where Lamott recommended Brenda’s book, but I couldn’t remember how I came to find her. Then with the recent discovery that Anne is on Twitter, I saw her tweet, “Great old book on writing & creativity is Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. It changed my life.” (Ah ha! It must have been Anne, somewhere.)

I love that Anne was inspired by Brenda. Their styles are quite different. Brenda is unreservedly exuberant. Anne holds back, offering despair and wicked humor along with hope. Brenda will tell you of her troubles and the quagmires of writing, but then she believes in you so fervently that you feel enveloped by unconditional love and acceptance. Anne is more grim and disturbed, but is so hilariously funny about it that you laugh and feel better.

I see now this is becoming a post about these women, the teachers that I love so much. I haven’t spoken of Natalie yet today. Writing Down the Bones came before the other books. She started me on a lifelong journal writing habit. Natalie is a spirit guide, helping me find another plane outside of what we see in the everyday world. Over the years and re-readings, I recognize more and more of her wisdom from personal experience, and she in turn offers wisdom from others:

Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, said, “We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.” It is the same with this way of practice writing: “We must continue to open and trust in our own voice and process. Ultimately, if the process is good, the end will be good. You will get good writing.

And then we come back to me. Who am I? I’m probably overly concerned with illusory authority. I’ll trust too quickly the word of the “published” writer. That is, the traditionally published writer, approved by the establishment. I’m unfairly suspicious of myself and all the other grubby self-publishers. Damn the internet and its egalitarian ways!

In the new world order, I respect more the words of a writer with a tribe. With numbers. Twenty thousand subscribers. Ten thousand Twitter followers. Some thousands of “likes” on Facebook. These are just numbers, and in some cases a complete fraud, but they confer the proper amount of desperately needed authority.

I can’t take seriously a guy like me, with only a handful of readers, even if they are fiercely loyal and dedicated and breathtakingly good-looking and outrageously smart and funny. It’s not that I think these writers — or myself — have nothing worthwhile to say, but– no, that is exactly what I think, in my worst moments. We want to go with the winners. If people are already listening, the speaker automatically seems worth listening to. If the restaurant is empty, the food must not be good, and there are so many other eateries on this strip to choose from…

And so it goes.

But lately as I stick with my program of writing and get my thoughts down, they seem to me not overly putrid, so I put them out here. Maybe it is helpful or interesting to share these things, and maybe that’s how you grow, and how you can help others find their path as well, to see another way of working.

And I continue to catch glimpses of the truth, that the important part is “just” the writing. Natalie, Anne, and Brenda have already tried to show me this, so many times and in so many ways, but some things you have to learn for yourself, and you can only learn this lesson by doing it.