One Wednesday a month I block out a day with my writing partner, Erin; she heads north, or I head south, and each hiring sitters for the day, we then head to the other’s magical writing spots. I think, secretly, we each hope to glean a charmed basket of excellent-writing-juju from the other person’s Place.
We order our coffee in for-here mugs, because we know that we’re going to be holed up in this particular morning spot for a good, long while. Then we sit down, and with respective laptops, we scrunch our noses in concentration, and we close our eyes, minds searching for the perfect word or phrase.
Erin is writing the next great American YA (young adult) novel, of that I’m sure. She has this story all mapped out, on paper and in her mind and, of course, in Google docs as well. And really, it makes sense that this would be her genre, because she has this undying passion for teenagers: she gets them, and they get her, so much so that these girls whom she pours her life into can’t get enough of Mama-Erin’s acceptance of them just as they are. She invites them into her own messy, imperfect world, which – whether they know it or not – gives them permission to stop putting on the I’ve-got-all-my-sh$%-together face, and be a little messy and imperfect too.
So Mama-Erin thinks about her conversations with these girls, about their verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, and she remembers what it was like when she was their age. It’s like she magically jumps into her own DeLorean, transporting herself back to the 90’s, when it mattered whether you had Friday night plans, when you glanced at every reflective mirror you passed, checking your lip gloss and mascara, thinking about self-self-self.
And that’s when, after closing her eyes and scrunching her nose deep in thought, she finds the perfect way to say one sentence.
I love that.
I love that sometimes, even if you end up deleting entire paragraphs and chapters before it, that one sentence makes it all worth it.
I love that writing – like most things in life, really – is a journey, in which we have to actually sit our bums down and let our fingers do the talking. We have to stop talking about writing, and actually write, even if we think we have nothing to say (because chances are, we just haven’t taken the time to still our minds and listen).
Sometimes when I’m sitting across the table from her, I glance over, and green with envy at the literary perfection she’s already attained, at her confidence that she’s writing exactly what she should be writing, I too begin to think that maybe I should write the next great American YA novel. I mean, I worked with teenagers professionally for 12 years – aren’t I too, like a Professional Knower of Teenage Culture?
And then I realize that that’s Erin, and what she’s writing is so completely Mama-Erin-esque. She’s leaning into the story that her life has begun to write.
But it’s not my story. And that’s okay.
My story – if we’re going to classify it – is what they call Personal Memoir/Non-Fiction. I enter into noticing the little things of the every day, and I keep my eyes wide-open to the present, to Beauty around me. And sometimes these Everyday Stories make me laugh, or they teach me a lesson, or they point me to the one who is Ultimate Beauty to me, Jesus.
But I don’t have the whole story mapped out in front of me, and that’s okay. I used to do a lot of speaking at summer camps, the invitations and assignments of which would be given and known months in advance. Inevitably, the months would go by, and the titled “CAMP” document on my Desktop would sit unopened, but for its name. Like a final paper at the end of a college quarter, the clock would tick-tick-tick, the looming week approaching with each nearing second.
And just when I thought I’d have to call the director and say I quit! No more! My mind is out of ideas and brilliant metaphors and funny stories and apparently the Spirit of really-good-ideas, Jesus himself, has altogether left me. I am done! …”it” would come. A tiny little idea would burgeon forth in the back of my mind, and my fingers would begin to give birth to the connections that were already, always there, even though I hadn’t yet known it.
The same exists now – and so I lean into that burgeoning nugget of an idea, and I scrunch my nose in concentration, and I close my eyes, searching. For it will come. It always does.
Because this is me. This is the story my life’s been writing, for a long while now. And I’m okay with it.
What about you? If you’re a writer, what’s your process? What story has your life been writing?
PS: Erin really didn’t pay me to write this post. She’s just that awesome.0