Little commitments keep me productive. My newest practice is the ringing of chimes for the beginning and end of each writing week. The tinkle of the Sunday chimes are light and breezy; their joyful hope ramps up my eagerness to get to the page and grow as a writer. Friday’s chimes are fuller, resonate deeper in my body; their weight is born from a victory earned. To reap Victory’s fullness, it must be met in two ways. First, the week’s goals must be met. For me, this means, finish the week’s newsletter and write or revise the next chapter of the current WIP. Second, the quality of what lands on the page throughout the week must show at least a hint of progress in my skillset as a writer.
When I rang the chimes last Friday, the fullness of victory was not with me. I’d met the week’s goals, but the progress experienced over the previous weeks, thanks to an infusion of guidance from Chuck Palahniuk, was absent. I considered not ringing the chimes, but if I’ve learned one thing over my decades of life it’s this: beating myself up for not doing better is wasted energy. Energy needs to be channeled into positive pursuits. Looking upward is the only way forward.
Still, the week had been hell. My inclination was to blame the outside appointments that upset my momentum last Monday. But the source of hell was bound up in the particular memoir chapter in need of revision— the story of writing draft nine. Have you fallen asleep yet? My eyelids threaten to close whenever I hear or see the number 9. I may take forty winks now. Notice the digression, resistance, and avoidance as I write about digression, resistance, and avoidance.
I reminded myself that each new chapter begins with a day of wrestling. I am a slow writer. It takes time for me to clarify purpose, find the appropriate entry point, and zero in on the necessary conflicts in need of exploration. The first day often ends with nothing more than pages and pages of scratching and no answers. But somewhere between my nighttime meditation and the next morning’s final meditation, clarity arrives, and I return to the page with renewed vigor.
Clarity didn’t show last week. But, of course, I did. Because that’s what I do. And somehow— don’t ask for particulars, none are available— the chapter pieced itself together. It’s not ready for Prime Time, but neither is this second draft; it’s only the second draft; the draft that is shaping up to be the true first draft of the memoir. So, I was relieved. And, I thought maybe it’s better than I think. Once I transcribe it to the computer and read it out loud, maybe I’ll break into a surprised happy dance— this post proves I did not.
I’d just typed the following passage.
Edgy Kaitlyn says, “Enough of this Convenient Shit! How am I supposed to transform and be the heroine of my life if you never challenge me? Let me fall. Let’s find out what I’m made of. Let’s find out what you’re afraid of.”
When I wrote it, it felt like the perfect segue to what followed and carried me nicely through to the end of the chapter and the end of Draft Nine. But when Kaitlyn’s words bounced back from the computer screen, fear dug into me like a meat claw readying a slab of pork for barbecue.
Is fear the true villain in my life? In my writing? Have I clung to the New Orleans story because I’m afraid to write about the real fear in my life? What am I afraid of? What am I avoiding? Is this the moment where I let go of the novel I’ve been working on for eighteen years, in order to write from the tender hurt in my heart? Or is this fear a form of resistance to keep me from following all the way through on the novel and the memoir? Or is it sign to go deeper into the memoir, and start by rewriting last week’s chapter? Is the fear a sign for how close I am to breaking free as a writer with a voice and a skillset I can call my own? Or am I simply afraid that nothing I do will ever be good enough?
The questions keep coming; I have no answers. The fear refuses to subside, or identify itself.
I don’t know what to do. I hate not knowing. It’s a horrible state of being; it makes me restless. But I have to admit, the times when I believed I knew what I was doing didn’t ever turn out the way I hoped, so maybe the state of not knowing isn’t as horrible as I’ve made it out to be. Which reminds me of something one of my hatha yoga teachers used to say. Whenever someone in class complained about how uncomfortable a particular pose was to execute, he’d say…
Good. Stay in the pose until you reach the moment when you no longer wish to leave.
And so, here I sit, and write, wrapped in fear I don’t understand waiting for the moment when I no longer wish for it to go away. But maybe it’s not supposed to. Maybe this is me breaking free? Wouldn’t that be lovely.