I have started writing again. Maybe it’s more correct to say that I have resumed being a writer. Anyway, I’ve been musing over some of the things that have helped me resume a former identity and be more comfortable with it.
The first thing is reading. Writers read constantly, continually, and compulsively. When I was a writing student in graduate school and met my friend Stephanie (not his real name!), I chastised her for only owning about 3 books. How could you be a writer and not be reading every book you could get your hands on? I didn’t understand.
When I was growing up in Columbus, my family took both the newspapers — the morning Citizen-Journal and the evening Dispatch. They were read to me until I could read them myself. After that point I read everything that came into the house, and learned that excellent writing was to be found even in magazines that did not reflect my core interests. Because of my father’s hobbies and interests I learned to flip to the last editorial page of magazines like Guns & Ammo and Road and Track and enjoy the editorial gems to be found there. Even today, I’m thrilled to be in a waiting room of any kind if I can get access to Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, or AutoWeek rather than pap like People, Us, or Family Circle.
Lately I’ve been actually reading my Sports Illustrated issues. The level of their journalism and creative nonfiction is such that I can enjoy almost any article except something on professional basketball. (That league is a shoe commercial; I don’t care.) I garner new data. I relish a clever turn of phrase. I want to keep turning the pages forever.
Advertising and commercials, though clever, don’t usually count as good writing. So I’m finding my reading matter in high-level magazines like SI, and in memoir (Carole King’s A Natural Woman), biography (Mark Zwonitzer’s Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music), and fiction (Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). Good writing takes you out of your self and your life and carries you somewhere else. It takes you to funny, clever, thoughtful places you could not have gone by yourself. Give me three pages of McCall Smith and a hot cup of rooibos tea, and I am in Botswana.
It’s not that I really want to world to go away. I like lots of things about the world. It’s just that I want the silence to be able to enter in, have a lie down on the couch, and get really comfortable. I love music, but when I listen to it constantly I realize I am listening to someone else’s writing, crowding out my own potential ideas and words and melodies. How much worse are television and radio for providing Hulk-level train-tossing derailments of your independent creative thoughts? So much of television consists of the reporting of distressing news, speculation on the future, the escalation of interpersonal conflict, and criticism of those who have talent and success. That kind of background noise really stifles one’s sonnet-writing abilities.
If I’m working hard enough at my writing, I’m not eating for the wrong reasons. We know what they are. Boredom. Frustration. Loneliness. Anxiety. Anger. Jealousy. Fear. Unrequited love. Confusion. And, ironically, writer’s block. If I come across a sentence that flashes across my vision and makes me chase it through the forest so I can write it down, I won’t care about that bowl of chips. The act of writing can burn calories by means of a pre-emptive strike.
I am such a fan of color coding that I should turn professional. I have certainly put my years into the craft. I color code my hanging files, my kids’ drink cups, and everything I can lay my hands upon. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve color coded my school folders, from the first Trapper Keeper until yesterday. Green is for life sciences like Biology. Yellow is for Chemistry and other hard/applied sciences. Blue is for History. But red… red is for literature, for writing, for strength through creativity. Red is a power color. Red is for blood, lifeblood. Red is for rage. Red is for anger, passion, fury, heart. If I want to find my old writing, I go to the basement, open a repurposed Hammermill Graphicopy paper carton, and pull out a red folder. Any red folder will do. My writing, from whatever era, will be within.
Read – ad + quiet – et + red = Required
Writing is required of me. It is who I am before I am anything else. It is what I do when I am at my best. It is what I turn to when I am at my lowest. My people have been “makers” for many generations, mostly with wood, but I “make” with words. I may not have a published book, but I have journals, a blog (all right, many blogs), a Facebook page, and private notes in which I record my thoughts, my frustrations, and my songs. Some of my writing is shared and some of my writing will stay private forever. It takes the form it needs to take, and I do what I must do.