On Monday Mama-Erin and I holed up one last time before she and her family pack their mostly-full-of-books bags and boxes, and transplant themselves to Davis. I mean, really, it’s certainly not the last time we’ll be writing together, it’s just the last time we’ll be writing in the same general vicinity, with the comfort of a 25-minute hop, skip and a jump away from the other’s computer.
And honestly, I’m like 96% filled-with-sunshine-on-the-inside happy for them, and then, selfishly, sad and jealous with a whispering Aw Shucks! remaining of a 4%. But ever the optimist, I’m grateful the green-eyed 4% can be smushed between thumb and index finger, gone to the greater good.
But I digress.
Because when our writing day comes around, it brings about this miraculous mixture of collaboration. Even though we’re each working on our own individual pieces – her the next great YA novel and an essay submission for Elle, me a blog here and there, along with a submitted piece for Real Simple – sentences are read aloud, and Google Drive docs are shared over and over again. Eyes are closed in concentration in order to come up with the best of opening paragraphs, and lips are tucked and bitten under teeth, as together we figure out how to best show and not tell a story.
And then we talk writing: Mama-Erin explains that John Green is a closeted Episcopal, but brilliant, oh so utterly brilliant! in his character depiction of adolescents and adults alike, even if he kills off all my favorites, and I’m left shrugging a shoulder, apparently ever-in-want of a Disney ending.
I then esteem Saint Anne who believes in shitty first drafts, and because it is the Summer of Madeleine, I desire to capture the extra-ordinary in the everyday, for this too is sacred, this too is holy.
For me, when it comes to writing, I know a couple of things are true: I know that deep down, I was made to create. And when I make the time and space to sit down and let the tangled mess of heart and mind and soul unite, then something greater than me comes out in an – albeit – further jumble of letters and commas and periods.
But it’s still the act of creating. And still, it gives me life.
I wish I could say I’m disciplined in the everyday-ness of my creative process – but I’m not. I liken it to playing the piano: I took classical piano lessons from the 4th grade through college, taught mostly by the 80, then 90+ little old lady, Mrs. Given, who lived down the street from our family.
You see, the lesson was always the same: finger exercises, practiced pieces (which I never seemed to play as well for her as I did in the comfort of my own living room), and then, her showcasing time. We’d switch places – her to the wooden bench, me to the wobbly black stool – and without so much as a glance upward at the sheet music, her accomplished fingers would begin to play from memory what her heart had relished in for decades.
“You see?” she’d say, fingers gliding over the keys with breathless ease. Yes, yes, I see.
Soon I’d walk three blocks home to our own upright, and immediately hoping to recreate the brilliance of Rachmaninoff I’d just experienced, I’d sit down on our wooden bench and attempt to play the entire piece through.
And it was horrible.
An heroic four-minute piece of music had turned into a half-hour torture session.
I’d then realize that in order for me to get there, I needed to take the piece in little tiny chunks, measure by measure, theme by theme, page by page.
I think writing is the same way for me, and maybe for Mama-Erin, too: sometimes I sit down at the bench and I vomit out 1000 words, and ultimately, it ends up being torturous at best. But still, I wrote. I created. I fulfilled my soul’s obligatory need to be its deepest self.
Then measure by measure, theme by theme, page by page, I sit down, and over the days and weeks and months, I practice and I perfect my writing craft.
And that, I’d say, is part and parcel of what we’ve all been created to do.
What about you? How do you write? What’s your piano-playing strategy when it comes to creating?0