Listening for Words


A recent blog post by fellow writer Dulcie Whitman got me thinking about what we do when we know we need to write but can’t seem to link two decent phrases together. While she is trying to wrangle her thoughts into a respectable book format, I am free to let my words and topics mix and match like a toddler dressing themselves. Our writing intentions are different, which also makes our process and expectations different, but the question of how we go about writing what we know we need to write remains. 

I never have trouble writing, I just have a lack of real writing time. Working 50 hours a week at an unsatisfying job while coping with fibromyalgia and managing a household doesn’t leave me much time to do anything. Steven King (at least I think it was him) has said that in the beginning of his career, he wrote in a closet late at night after working two jobs. But I am pretty sure someone else cooked, did the dishes, folded laundry and scrubbed toilets so he didn’t have to. I don’t have that luxury. I can’t think past the crumbs in the carpet and the pile of dishes on the counter, much less write in the middle of them. I need space – not just relatively  organized physical space, but the internal space to be able to listen.

My writing process is largely about learning how to listen for—and obey—the indicators that hint “something” important trying to emerge on the page. It is a feeling like that weird tickling sensation I get just before I sneeze. The feeling could last for days until I am able to sit down to write, eagerly anticipating what will be revealed. But, just like a sneeze, sometimes it disappears for no reason at all and I am left with sentences and paragraphs that remain adrift. Some are sent to the trash pile, but some are kept  in the hope that they will eventually find a place to grow.

Dulcie and I attended the same MFA program whose unofficial motto is “Trust the Process.” It is a phrase that applies to much about life and as well as writing. Sometimes it just isn’t time to write, but when it is, I try to be ready without too much agenda or judgement. I let myself be a vehicle for words that sometimes don’t seem like mine though they are clearly my “voice”.  Writing is a twisting trail through rough terrain and I try to be open to the unexpected places the journey can take me. Truth revealed in words is often discovered in tucked away corners, a shifty thing that doesn’t unveil itself easily. For me, it is mindfulness, not force, that enables it grow on the page. Sometimes I just have to accept that the time just isn’t quite right. 

Dulcie’s blog post made me go through my file of “starts” to see what was recently abandoned. I found this little piece worthy of rescue. It still doesn’t have a place to “live”  but I like it anyhow. Written in the throes of jet lag and a wicked cold after returning from Ireland in September, it perfectly evokes the gray fog of mind and body I was experiencing. It is the start of something and I love how it makes me feel. Though I don’t yet know where it is going, I trust its value and maybe if I air it here, something new will shake out of it.

“I came home from Ireland with a pocket full of dried peat from a bog in Donegal and a bad cold. The peat landed in my pocket about the same time the cold lodged itself in my head and chest, near the end of my three-week trip just when I was beginning to wonder how I could live without Ireland. The cold sent me deep into my body, insulated by mucus and an occasional fever and the deep fear of not being able to breathe. I had no energy to mourn the passing of the last few days of my trip and no regrets as I rushed home to steroids and antibiotics.

The dreams came the first night I slept in my own bed. Untethered from reality by large doses of nighttime cold medicine and jet lag, Ireland visited me in vivid flashes of green, full experiences of places both real and imagined  so real I’d waken with a sigh of contentment. And then, coughing. Disoriented, I had no idea which continent I was on or what county I was sleeping in. The now-familiar sound of two men sleeping in my room had dwindled to the intimacy of just one, and he too seemed to be shifting between places. Without waking, he reached for me, anchoring us together as we drifted back into an emerald sleep ”

One thought on “Listening for Words

  1. Thanks! I often feel the same way. I know I want to write, but often the times when I feel “on fire” to write are when I’m driving home from work, or in the middle of my work day, and really can’t pull over and start barfing in my blog.

    Why does life have to be so hectic?

    Keep up the awesome work!

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