Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Grand Canyon of Writing

My writing life has felt like the Grand Canyon lately. Vast and empty. Varied and full. A journey I should have started when I was younger. A friend once told me about his hike down the Grand Canyon. It was a spur of the moment thing with a best buddy just after college--or maybe it was high school. A few cans of beans and some beer. They made it, somehow. I think he told me they almost died, and improbably, it was incredibly funny. 

So here I am. Got the beer and the beans, and I'm old enough to know better, but I still want to plum the depths that writing holds for me. I seldom feel like I have the proper preparation, and I often feel that I just might die trying. Why do I do it, I've asked myself this past month. It's just a giant whole in the ground, this writing thing. Is it too late to go back to school and become, let's say, a paralegal or a dental hygienist?

This past week I took 1379 words of out a short story that I wrote first draft of maybe three years ago. If this story were a hike down the Grand Canyon, it would be like I was stuck at the Phantom Ranch, plundering the canteen day after day with only the vaguest plans of ever hiking back out at again. But hey, it might be finished now--and if only finished meant published, that would be swell. I could say, hey everyone, I hiked the Grand Canyon! Instead, it's like I've bought all the maps and the gear, and in every conversation, I tell people about how I'm going to hike down the Grand Canyon, but I never actually lace up my boots and go. So here I am, now peering into the abyss that is called Sending Work Out. 

And meanwhile as I progress through a weird and difficult week of real life, the words of one of my favorite teachers have come back to me. "Take notes," Barbara Abercrombie says

And then there's this from another of my favorite teachers and writers, Abigail Thomas, on the subject of writing memoir.

Writing is the way I ground myself, and it's what keeps me sane. Writing is the way I try to make sense of my life, try to find meaning in accident, reasons why what happens happens—even though I know that why is a distraction, and meaning you have to cobble together yourself. Sometimes just holding a pen in my hand and writing milk butter eggs sugar calms me. Truth is what I'm ultimately after, truth or clarity. I think that's what we're all after, truth, although I'd never have said such a thing when I was young. And I write nonfiction because you can't get away with anything when it's just you and the page. No half-truths, no cosmetics. What would be the point?

Read more:

So I'm taking notes on real life while I write fiction. I'm binge watching Breaking Bad, cooking dinner for my mom every night, and afterwards walking off into the quiet suburban dark while I let my mind wander. Mornings, there's yoga and t'ai chi chih, the minute-by-minute life with my mom and everything else. I'm taking notes. Those notes might be a long, long hike toward fiction or memoir, or maybe just calm.


Ms. Moon said...

My writing feels to me these days like one of those tidal rivulets that form on the beach. Shallow, at best, temporary and gone by the time you've walked down and come back.

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful, real ruminations, Denise that provoke me to thinking about my own writing. Why not turn this post into something to submit? It's not only helpful -- it's beautiful. It's something we writers recognize.