In dreamland, I meet up with two female writers. We cross what looks like an oversized patio, or the large entranceway to the Sky Train in Bangkok, where photographers gather to shoot photos or films. We cross the patio and enter an open-air café. The topic of conversation— writing. I say nothing. Who are these women? How do I know them? Why are we meeting?
Three women— three parts of my personality? Duh, it’s a dream.
Resistance defines Woman R. The excuses for why she can’t write today, or won’t be able to write tomorrow aren’t long enough for the Guinness Book of Records, but each one is weighted with justification. The heft of what she carries on her shoulders makes any amount of writing she manages worthy of a medal. On the days she does write, she never goes beyond the allotted time. Quotes Hemingway’s rule of 1000 words per day and the need to stop mid-sentence in order to have something to return to. Avoiding burnout is essential for longevity. Obviously, she’s never read On Writing by Stephen King, who never stops until he writes ten pages or 2000 words a day, which delivers a first draft in three months. Perhaps, this is why Women R isn’t published.
Fear defines Woman F. Nothing she ever writes feels good enough. She needs to get the writing right. Rules exist for a reason. She’s read Stephen King. Her mission: to sharpen her toolbox skills, so no fault can ever be found in her execution. She is the queen of showing up and completes all the exercises in the craft books, in order to uncover the mystery for why her writing isn’t good enough. Each craft book becomes the new gospel. Trouble is the rules keep piling on because she’s afraid to break them. Unlike Woman R, Woman F completes each draft. But the drafts are clean and tidy and too sanitary for publication; she’s so much in her head there’s no heart on the page.
The third Woman is A— the A+ Daydreamer (me)— the upbeat, idealistic hopeful. She dreams, but understands the only way dreams become reality is if the work gets done. And so, she shows up. She likes showing up every day, but she also wants to break the rules and find a freer loosie-goosy style. Trouble is Woman R and F hold her back. They keep her restrained like one of my husband’s colleagues, who won’t come into the house unless our husky-border collie is on a leash.
In dreamland, the three of us choose a table. Once seated I say, “This is what we are going to do. For the next hour and a half, we’re going to write. When the timer goes off, we’ll read what we’ve written to each other. All feedback needs to highlight the positive, the interesting, the curious. If cheering isn’t possible keep your mouth shut. Today is about giving birth, not revision.”
The women tremble and shake their heads. Their fear and resistance grow as sticky as the humidity in the open-air patio. I insist on the task. My voice so loud, the customers at the surrounding tables hear the challenge. It might be my imagination, but I swear someone says, “Oh, they’re going to do that Natalie Goldberg thing.” And I’m proud of myself for doing something I’ve often thought about but never followed through on.
A sip of tea later, Woman R and F no longer appear the same. Without masks, they can no longer hide the truth of their identity— they’re Whores of Negativity— their mission to rape my creativity. My back rises like a porcupine raises his quills. “Let’s just give it a whirl this once,” I say, “and see what happens. If you never want to do it again, fine. If you’d rather rot away with your routines and excuses and end up at the end of your life with regrets and if only on your lips. Fine. But today, let’s give this a go.”
And just like that, my Whores of Negativity stood down. I woke up thinking— Wow, I finally own my writing life. And I did, for the rest of the day. It was exhilarating.
This dream occurred months ago, and I’m happy to say neither of those whores have wrestled with me since. But I’m not foolish enough to believe one mouthing off erased those Whores of Negativity for good. It was only a dream, remember.
I sense them lurking on the periphery of my writing life— all hackled up to pounce when the time is ripe. They’ll be wearing new disguises, of course, because that’s what Whores of Negativity do while dancing as fast as they can in their flashy red shoes.
But here’s the thing. Now that their masks have been removed— even if they do show up— all I need to do is channel Glinda from Oz, “Oh, rubbish. You have no power here. Be gone!” Which is exactly what I did in my dream.
You’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? I know because I’m rolling mine. It’s a rolling eye moment. After all, it is a wee-bit embarrassing— asking myself to do something I’d tell my granddaughter to do. But why the hell not? Don’t we ask ourselves to invoke the imagination of a child whenever we’re writing a story? Then why not call upon that same imagination to vanquish the demons? It’s silly. But I believe just like Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street.
Magic lies in the believing. Choose your magic weapon, and write with abandon.