This week has been incredibly interesting for me, as a writer. For years, I have to admit, I’ve made fun of the phase “as a writer” because it always sounds so over-the-top. So touchy-feeling. So confident. It’s like giving yourself a title when it’s really up to others to name you. As a writer. You sound a little pretentious. A little like you might stick your little pinky up as you sip your tea. A bit like you take yourself a bit too seriously. If you’ve ever started a sentence with the clause, “Reading this as a writer,” I probably tuned out the rest of what you said in that sentence.
But I’m learning these days that maybe I have it all wrong. As a writer.
I’m learning to think of myself this way, and this week I hit a word count of over 11,000 words on one idea.
Words are becoming my friend instead this avenue of self-despair and pure self-sabotage. These 11,000 words are nothing new. Writing that much isn’t that hard. Give me a rainy morning and fuckton of coffee and watch me go. But these 11,000 words are magic because they are about one focused idea that is all somewhat organized into a story. For the first time, I have a stack of papers that actually has some heft that feels a lot like the makings of a book. About one idea. As a writer.
Two of my favorite bloggers, Kate Bowles and David Wiley, also posted bloggy blogs this week, and I’m still mulling over their finer points. In an ideal world, I’d add to the conversation that they both have started, but in order for me to stay on track with my hobby job project, I want to express my gratitude that they’re putting words out there for me to read. The right words at the right time means so much, that connection of story and thoughts. That’s what keeps me in the blog space. What I still return to Twitter for. Why I scroll through Instagram.
Kate summarized for me in her last post as a reader, the beautiful hard personal question of “Why write?”
I always admire the way that Kate can braid together three threads while presenting another question to consider. A true teacher. As a writer. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I prefer not to.” What those words mean after a day of writing for work. How there are sometimes no words left. As a writer.
And Wiley’s bloggy blog is a history lesson about what is possible and how we get there in blog-essay form. What a word artist. What a teacher. Some days I feel that if Montaigne were alive in the blog era he’d essay it up to answer the question: Que sais-je? As a writer.
Both bloggers are not only teaching, they are writing what they know with an audience. The audience of self. And others who may read. And that’s everything to me.
As a writer.
This past weekend I went to my very first writing retreat with about 12 other people, and I completely dug being a student for a weekend. It was our first meeting after almost three months of purely online interaction. And I’m floating from such a lovely weekend, and extra special love to my friend Tami for cooking me mother fucking delicious dinners, letting me sleep in my van in your driveway, and for the extra time writing on your deck. Magical weekend. As a writer.
During the retreat there was a lot of information about other people’s stories, the physical way that writing helps people work through trauma. And I had an epiphany about “the market” of the type of book I’m trying to write (not that I’ll ever sell it, but whatevs). Here’s why I’ve been filled with despair about this story I want to tell (for years), and how much I’ve struggled with the title “writer” (for years).
Much of what I want to write about will never appeal to a mass market. Here’s why I don’t think I fit into the Oprah-ication of the Memoir Zeitgeist. Quick list.
1] I’ve never had sex with anyone that I didn’t want to.
2] I’ve never been a drug addict,
and 3] my family’s Good People.
Sounds like a fucking country song. You know, life’s kinda worked out for me. I’m not that wounded, and I’m incredibly lucky compared to others. And I suppose I write in that spirit that Monsieur Montaigne intended, only I’d add the work “fuck.” Que sais-je, faaaawwwwk?
Trying to tell a story in the written form requires a lot patience and practice. I said most of these chapters in bars over the years. Or I’ve confessed standing around campfires. But I’m committed to doing this. To writing this book.
I really like the nine-month writing program that I’ve joined (come hell or high water) and I adore the people who are involved, and by golly their stories and motivations are really a joy to hear. I had the privilege of people really examining my story piece by piece this weekend, and listening to hot mess of words in the mouths of others was so productive to me. I listened to the video of what I said (with mild horror) and how others summarized it this morning, and I loved it. Every minute.
Here’s the thing.
What I struggle with, as a writer, is the genre of confessional memoir. Memoirs are marketed for their drama, trauma, and sad as fuck denouement. I mean, who doesn’t love the last words of person who struggled and lost with suicide. You sick bitches! Who doesn’t a story about how love blows everyone apart? Pass the popcorn! Who doesn’t love a story about somebody’s life falling apart? On pre-order from the bookstore! Who doesn’t love a redemption story about how one recovers from [enter shitty thing that humans do to another here]? Sign me up.
My denouement isn’t that earth shattering. I would like to teach people something. Maybe make them laugh. With me. At me. I don’t care. As a writer.
You know, my little bildungsroman of a young woman compared to the stories of true sadness and horror just doesn’t fit the zeitgeist, man. Fuck it. I’m still going to write it. C’est denouement be damned.
The added writing retreat bonus was I got a peek at how one of these retreats work. Would love love love to teach something like that, y’all. Holyhotdamn. The whole experience reminded of when I taught Saturday classes that met from 9:00-3:20pm. Those were long days of composition classes where the students did online work during the week and then we met face-to-face. The class was specifically for career adults who worked weird shifts, and every single one of my students wanted to be there. Very rare experience as a community college teacher, mind you. I loved that class. That summer the college grounds crew hired a herd of goats to eat up the blackberries on the hillside. My class and I were on Goat Watch all summer. It was awesome.
Also time in a workshop setting without a computer lab was fascinating to me. It’s been ages since I was in a learning environment without a computer, and it was odd to write so much by hand. Analog. I missed my magic machine. Typed like a banshee once I was back to it.
I was asked to repeat “I Stood For” as a writer and I said the following. It was a little touchy-feely, but it was a retreat after all. Totally got with the program.
Here’s how the scribe heard me, and she wrote these words in my journal:
- I’m telling a story that I’ve wanted to tell
- A woman who learns about backpacking, so it’s about being a woman, but for anyone
- Learning from mistakes
- Teaching others from these mistakes
- Trying to relate to her through story
- Taking time to write
- Taking time to connect with others
- Trying to do something I’ve always wanted to do
- Trying to be the writer I’ve always wanted to be
- Life as a writer
- Time as a writer
So that’s what I’m working on. Why, I don’t know, but it’s something I love doing. Scoping out the entire journey of my narrator is really fun—the narrator is already a bit unreliable there, eh? She has a terrible memory, drank a bit too much at times, and forgets names. Flawed. Imperfect. Becoming.
As Flaubert says about his narrator in Madame Bovary so shall I: