Write as if No One is Reading

People don’t ask, “How’s the writing going?” the way they used to.  They probably know.  It’s been too long since I put fingers to keyboard for any sustained amount of time.

The advice we’re given is “treat writing like a job.”  In other words, show up, sit down and write.  That was easy for me to do when I was writing the manuscript now gathering dust on my bookshelf.  Three years ago, as I dived into research about World War II, the contributions of civilian women during wartime and Japanese internment camps, it was easy to set the alarm at five.  I was on a mission to complete a full-length novel.  Eighty-eight thousand words later the job was done.

I just don’t know if I’m on a mission any more.

I haven’t lost my love, only my drive.  Or maybe it’s not my drive.  Maybe it’s my vision – I can no longer see in my mind’s eye the writer I wanted to be in 2008.  The writer who craved commercial success has disappeared.

An old friend said to me last night, “Of course you’re not writing – these days you’re too busy living.” And then a few hours later a new friend said, “Write as if no one is reading.”  When I began to study the craft of writing that was my focus – writing for the potential reader with the conviction that one day the President of the United States would put a hardcover copy of my best seller in his summer vacation carry-on.  And now?  I think it’s time to begin writing for me – to color outside the lines a bit or maybe allow the flow of words to lead me down an unexpected path.

(Why does that make me feel uncomfortable?  What would happen if I did that?  What would I discover?)

With the counsel of those friends still sitting warmly in my heart I’m going to embark on a new writer’s path.  No matter what I read in all the “how to write” books I am not going to treat writing like a job.  The writing that I want to produce – the writing that nurtures or challenges or pulls at you – that  writing is not a job.

And so the dozen half-written essays on my desktop, the few short stories I began but never finished and the unfinished novel languishing in an electronic file – they’re all going to wait a while longer.  I’ve got to go live a little and then write about it as though no one is reading.

Rainy Mornings, Smoked Salmon and a Girl Named Turtle

The Bean Trees

Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t know this until today, but I love rainy June mornings.

Typically I tend to resent Saturday mornings.  I want to be like normal people.  I want the option of lounging about.  But my constitution won’t allow it. My body clock wakes me at six and I’m immediately consumed by the need to open my laptop and write.  What usually happens, of course, is that I leap out of bed, open my laptop and check emails.  This morning, with the rain tapping at my window, a miracle occurred.  I was convinced to keep my eyes closed for an extra ninety minutes.

When I did finally pull myself together, I was off to see my 90-year-old West Point graduate client for an hour of stretching and movement.  A widower, he’s typically quiet and reserved – except when I crack one of my notoriously bad jokes.  Although I really shouldn’t be encouraged, he’ll reward me with his hoot of a laugh.  Let’s just say there was a bit of hooting going on today.

After that I had brunch with a friend.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  It was with Mr. On Line.  What can I say?  I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done – I think you’re supposed to treat online dating a more like a job.  I’m just not the type of person to set up coffee dates every free second.

To be honest, at this point I’m inclined to put an end to all the OKCupid stuff and consider myself lucky that I’ve made a friend and didn’t meet an ax murderer in the process.  Sort of file it under been there, done that.  Besides, I met Mr. On Line’s amazing cats today.  Any day that involves a cat NOT showing instant disdain for the strange, dripping wet  human standing in the living room is a good day.  It probably helped that I had the lingering odor of smoked salmon on my fingertips but all’s fair in love and meows.

Is this becoming one of those loathsome, tedious, drawn out blog posts that become mind achingly dull in their monotony?  Is it?  IS IT??  Great. Because guess what I did after I bonded with the cats?

I took myself to the Cantor Museum on the Stanford Campus and spent two hours there.  To see this.  Which was amazing.  If you’re in the area and appreciate books, typesetting, paper and etching – don’t miss it.

And then I went home to read.  For pleasure.  From 4:30 to 8:30 PM.  Just me, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees (loved it) and several cups of pu-erh tea.

In other words, with the exception of my morning client, I managed to experience the day without an agenda.  Without the need to cross things off a list. (Ok…I confess… there was a little of that.)  But still it was an extraordinary day for Mimm Patterson.

Ps…by the way, this whole reading for pleasure business is fantastic!  I don’t know why I never considered it before.  Now there are a slew of books in my queue – my next Kingsolver will be The Poisonwood Bible.  After that Steven Harrigan’s Remember Ben Clayton.  Tomorrow it’s Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven.  And then I’m on to all the books I said I’ve always wanted to read but never have…

Faith, Strength and Losing Control

On the Tuesday morning that I cried in the shower, something very freeing happened.  I let go of the rules I had imposed upon myself and gave myself permission to write about anything I wanted – simply for the joy of putting “pen to paper” as it were.  (Except, of course, it’s rare anyone actually puts pen to paper these days.  Maybe I should have said, ‘fingers to keyboard’).

I don’t believe I was aware of how immobilizing my good intentions were.  The truth is facing the tables I had created to chart my progress only charted failure.  I could never meet the high expectations I had set for myself. They had to go.

I know there are plenty of writers, teachers and life coaches who would suggest I’m making a terrible mistake.  That if I don’t have a plan – if I can’t see a clearly defined goal – then I have no chance of reaching it.  I’m willing to take that risk.

Besides, I do have a goal.  It’s simple: be a better writer.

You’re right.  It’s a goal that can’t be quantified.  I won’t be able to – in five weeks or five months or five years – announce to the world “I’ve done it.  I am now a Better Writer.”  It will require faith.  And it will require that I let go.  I have to believe that if relinquish control of the flow chart that took over my life and instead find the strength to build a deep and unshakable foundation of discipline – if I write every day, relentlessly, without fail, about anything I want – then I will learn how to write.  I will be a better writer.  Goal.

As much as I would like, someday, to have those other things – a book to call my own and an audience who want to read it – I must consider this time in my career as a writer a precious gift.  This is my time to explore, to make mistakes, to discover if I have an affinity for fiction or personal essay.  It’s my time to provide myself the space to discover who I am as a writer.

And that’s what I’m going to do.

Fear Trips Us Up

I like WordPress.  Have done since the leader of a seminar I was attending encouraged all of us to write a blog as one step toward building a platform.  At the time – this was about three years ago – I was only beginning to understand how our lives were being impacted by the growth of social networking.  I’m certain I didn’t understand how to set up a blog (although I had fumbled around a bit with Blogger) and I hadn’t grasped the long-term influence blogging might have on my writing future.

But now, thirty-six months later I’m quite comfortable spilling my inner demons for the world to read.  I’m happy to share the struggles of an aspiring writer.  Let me correct that.  I’m not aspiring to be a writer.  I am a writer.  I’m aspiring to be a “successful writer”.  What is that?  How do we judge success?  Is it the first paycheck?  If it is – well – I managed that last year.  Or maybe it’s finding an agent.  Am I not a success if an agent wants to spend time selling the words I lay down on paper?  Ah yes, but I know it won’t be enough.  The book will have to be sold to a publisher.  And even then I won’t be happy until I’m on Oprah.  Or listed in the New York Times.  Or win a Pulitzer.

I dream – as the cliché goes – big.  I can see how long the road is, and, since that first and only paycheck just about filled my CRV’s gas tank – I can see how far I have to go.

So – getting back to wonderful WordPress:  as part of their commitment to the “post a week” concept they’ve been providing suggestions for topics.  I’m generally able to come up with my own – case in point my lambasting of the Yoga Journal Conference in my last two posts.  But today’s suggested topic intrigued me:

What’s the most important thing you’re putting off?

And why haven’t you done it yet? What do you need to make it happen?

I’ve been putting off making the kind of commitment it takes to be the successful writer I know in my heart I have to potential to be.  I blame my insane schedule.  I blame my raging hormones.  I blame my age – I really should have begun all this fuss earlier in life.  I blame the day of the week and the fact the sun shines on my computer screen at an awkward angle.  But none of those excuses are credible.  This is what it boils down to:


Not fear of failure – I’m had plenty of failures.  I know how to brush myself off and climb back into the saddle.  I’m talking about fear of success.  What do I do then?  What happens if I actually succeed?

In the past, when I’ve thought about what success looks like, it has always involved being over-committed, flying back and forth to New York, rushing about.  Having to find my inner extrovert.  The pressure of always being good enough.  That’s the picture I painted in my head of success.

What if I paint a different picture?  What if the picture includes being able to afford a home of my own and a secure retirement?  What if the picture includes a schedule that allows me to teach the yoga that I love but also gives me solid days of secluded writing.  What if the picture includes – wait for it – a yearly vacation?

I feel better already.  Now I’m motivated.  But the question remains, how will I make it happen?

By taking the first step.