Imagine you get so deep into writing, that you forget you are writing. The story just flows from you, through you, and out into the world….The first step is to give up the idea you will ever fail, or ever succeed. Prepare to serve only the needs of the story. Then move your hands, breathe.
When I really, really need to get rolling, I love to disappear. And the best way to do that is Amtrak. From Seattle to Portland and back, I can write for eight uninterrupted hours. I sit with a glass of bourbon beside me and The Replacements’s album Tim in my headphones.
Having a writing practice is like rowing out to sea in a small boat with a typewriter and sandwiches, hoping for the arrival of some strange bird in the sky.
Whenever my writing begins to feel boxed in, as if the words no longer possess any degree of freedom, trickling out painfully one by one, I remind myself of Grace Paley’s famous aphorism: ‘Everyone, real or imagined, deserves the open destiny of life.’ This is true for ourselves, certainly, but also for our characters and for the words through which we render their stories. Given my own predilection for mystery and unknowability, one of the most satisfying ways I’ve discovered to break free of this intellectual funk is to defamiliarize my experience by reengaging with works of art that efface boundaries, tap into our subconscious, and surface feelings of the unknown that I can impart to my own writing.
Isn’t one’s pain quotient shocking enough without fictional amplification, without giving things an intensity that is ephemeral in life and sometimes even unseen? Not for some. For some very, very few that amplification, evolving uncertainly out of nothing, constitutes their only assurance, and the unlived, the surmise, fully drawn in print on paper, is the life whose meaning comes to matter most.
For years and years, there’s been only one book I turn to when I feel the well dry up: The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and specifically the opening paragraph….I hope by memorizing it I will have absorbed it, and by absorbing it I will have in my lungs and blood the residue of that audacity to use when I sit down to write. Write fearless sentences, that first paragraph teaches me. Tell the savage truth, it insists.
Tucker had been walking for six hours through early morning ground fog that rose in shimmering waves.
“Finally, you’ve learned to crawl
inside the meat of your silence.”
—Erika L. Sánchez, “Girl,” from Lessons on Expulsion (2017)
Have a dog, or get one, or borrow one….When you’ve been deep in your head for a while, it’s important to touch something warm and alive, something mortal….While the dogs sniff a single blade of grass for two minutes, I find myself looking around. I notice a raptor overhead, an interesting human face, an overheard conversation, something discarded or forgotten in the grass. Be here for the writing life and be here for the real life. Each needs the other.