Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

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susan woodring
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Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by susan woodring » January 15th, 2010, 6:06 am

Four years ago, I sat in a crowded, smoke-filled bar and listened to an acquaintance lament how little time she had for writing. We had been students together in a creative writing program a year or so earlier and were now gathered with several other former classmates to celebrate the launch of a new independent press. I was fourteen weeks pregnant, drinking ginger ale and eating a huge plate of spicy nachos. An odd choice, but I was just coming out of the first trimester nausea and was enjoying my re-found love of food. I cared little about the consequences. She was on her second or third drink—something too stout for me, pregnant or not—and she laughed at my nachos.

“I love it,” she said. “Now you know you’ll have heartburn. It’s a certainty.”

An undeniable truth: women who are or who have ever been pregnant like to talk about their pregnancies, and worse—trade labor stories. Another truth: writers like to complain about all the things that keep them from writing. These are the things we love to hate. Morning sickness and writer’s block. That ugly dark line running vertically down the lower half of our bellies from the second trimester on. Lack of inspiration. The writing workshop that didn’t help. The truth, when it finally dawns on us, that our breasts will never fully recover from breastfeeding. The truth, when it finally dawns on us, that we may never get published. The constant demands on our time. Our inner demons, our doubts, our nerves, our expectations, our limitations, our need for sleep, blessed sleep. The fact that our babies will grow up, move away, forget to call, and yet our stretch marks will be with us at the nursing home.

That night, I returned to a house with dinner dishes still soaking in the sink. My daughter, three years old, whom I’d breastfed with her propped on a boppy while I typed away on my laptop above her head, was sleeping soundly in her toddler bed—bless my husband. It was late, I was tired, and it was hard to tell, was I more inspired or depressed after spending an evening with aspiring writers who, like me, were struggling for a reason to go on? Who nursed secret worries: could it be that all this was just a colossal waste of time? I had a toddler to care for and a new baby on the way. My friend had a garden to tend, her grown daughter’s wedding to help plan, and a full-time job. Was any of this really worth it?

And yet, the next morning, I woke early as always, took a couple of tums, tried a sip of coffee—just enough to remind me that the nausea hadn’t completely vanished—and I wrote. Before I faced the dishes, before I kissed my child, I wrote. Despite the heartburn, the tiredness. The guilt. Despite the nagging doubts, the feeling that I was writing into a pit, that nothing I wrote would ever be worth a second of anyone else’s time. Still, I wrote. I wrote, and I wrote.

I didn’t know what was coming, that I’d soon start having stories accepted here and there. That the very day I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my second child I’d find an email in my inbox from an indy press that wanted to publish my first novel. Or that the same press that we’d celebrated the night before would, a few years down the road, publish a collection of my short stories. Or that, a year and a half or so after that, I’d land my dream agent on the strength of a third book, another work I’d risen early, habitually, to tend to, to ponder and worry over and write and re-write and write once more.

All of it goes back to that morning, and to countless other mornings. I believe that every single word I write is only possible for the millions of words that came before it. In truth, I don’t know what else to do. My house is a mess, my children are driving me crazy, it’s my birthday, I finally managed to finish the laundry, I can’t find my car keys, my children are lovely and brilliant, it’s a beautiful day, I’m so very, very tired, I’m unreasonably happy or frustrated or devastated or angry, and the only answer is to keep writing.

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by nimarii » June 9th, 2010, 8:44 pm

a wonderful post, thank you :)

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by wildheart » June 10th, 2010, 5:59 am

I seriously love this post! It is just another thing that tells me for certain that this isn't all for nothing, that I need to keep writing. In fact, that is exactly what I was doing before I responded to your post.

I have a baby of my own, one that really hates to sleep, and somehow I still find the time to write. I give up sleep, I give up t.v., I give up whatever it takes. Writing is always going to be my answer.

Thank you again for reminding me of that.
A mother. A writer. A dreamer.

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by bcomet » June 10th, 2010, 4:32 pm

I love this post.
Another thing that keeps me writing is my writing group. They are just fabulous.
Honest. Encouraging. We are in this together. I just love sharing my pages with them.

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by wilderness » June 10th, 2010, 8:36 pm

Nice essay! If this were Facebook, I would *like* it. :D

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by Holly » June 11th, 2010, 6:30 am

Susan, what a wonderful post.

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by Down the well » June 11th, 2010, 9:43 am

Nice reminder. I write everyday, even though I don't always feel like it. Some days I read all the comments on all my favorite blogs first, play some boggle, and check out the CNN poll of the day before I open the file, but I always write. Every day. And more often than not, I'm rewarded with enough of a spark of inspiration to give me a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

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Re: Just Keep Writing: A Word on Habits

Post by khanes » June 13th, 2010, 1:43 am

This is a really great post! Thanks for reminding me that its important to write. I finished the first draft of my first book (now its being read by a few beta readers), and I've only written one short story in the past month. I'm now unemployed so that I can WRITE! I need a kick in butt and start working on my second novel :) Thanks everyone, for the inspiration.

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