Recently, I have added "fun reading" back into my life. I've always been an avid reader but grad school has put a damper on that. However, since my epiphany about introversion, I have made an effort to read not-for-seminary books as a way of relaxing and recharging. Anyway, currently I am reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler. It is fantastic. She is very funny yet she is also refreshingly honest in what she writes. Why do I bring this up? Well, one, because I get to choose what I write about here and two, because something Amy wrote has stuck with me.
"Everyone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea. They talk about their "morning ritual" and how they "dress for writing" and the cabin in Big Sur where they go to "be alone"--blah blah blah. No one tells the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver." (italics added)
One of the hardest aspects of the transition from my undergraduate to grad school is the amount of writing. Undergrad has a mix of objective exams with multiple choice, true/false, or matching questions and essays of varying lengths. While not every class has an equal balance of the two, the overall ratio of objective exams to essays in undergraduate work ends up being about equal (at least in my experience). Grad school, on the other hand, is all about the writing. Nobody cares about objective exams; the bulk of the work is forming opinions about the material we are studying. It is a challenging transition to make when I naturally excel at objective exams and am not the world's quickest writer. It is a whole lot harder to type words out onto a page than quickly remembering details about this or that theory. I think this is why the excerpt above has stuck with me. It's my reminder that this is hard for others too, that I'm not alone in struggling to write at times.
A recent blogger who I started reading this week wrote a post that compared parenting to spiritual disciplines. She writes, "I think the work of parenting--the often mind-numbing, eyeball gouging work that can somehow wrack me with worry and bore me to tears in a matter of minutes--is like a spiritual discipline because it is what we do, again and again, like it or not, to form us into who we hope to be." It got me thinking. What if I began to look at writing as a type of spiritual discipline? What if I looked at the struggle of writing as the struggle of a discipline? Does that change how I approach writing? I think it does change things. For starters, it gives me freedom to not write the perfect essay for each assignment. I can't seek perfection in my writing, rather I have to look at writing as a practice that I do over and over and over again. And every once in a while, there will be those moments where I write something great but most of it won't be and that's okay.
So now what? How do I get from this new approach of writing as a spiritual discipline to actually writing what needs to be written? I remind myself of another piece from Amy:
"So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?
Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more.You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book."
It's time to stop thinking and talking and worrying about the thing. It is time to, in the words of the Nike slogan, just do it.