Ten thousand words swarm around my head; Ten million more in books written beneath my bed*

Yesterday I penned  typed the final words of the final project of the writing program in which I’ve been engaged since late autumn 2010. From her studio in Salem, OR my writing mentor has assigned a dozen projects designed to build writing chops in someone who wrote her last piece of fiction when she was twelve. In eighteen months I have written, edited and revised thousands of words. A few thousand of those became six short stories, three of which I have submitted for publication. Two were published and one was short-listed for a national literary award. I need – must – do the slog work of getting the others off my hard drive and into an editor’s in-box. Many editors’ in-boxes. Rejection is an execrable and universal certainty of writing for publication. The form rejection letter is why God made the shredder.

But soon, after I receive feedback from this latest attempt, I will be on my own. No deadline, no direction, no word limit, no encouragement, no criticism. If I felt writing to be a solitary pursuit before, well, welcome to hanging in the wind.

I move forward with the unshakeable feeling that the small successes I’ve achieved thus far are cosmically laughable, that at some point my writing will gather dust and lurk in the corner next to my abandoned acoustic guitar. My stories will suffer from skills as short as my stubby fingers; like my “C” chord, they will almost – but not quite – make it.

What will keep me writing are the moments when I lose myself in the page, when the story takes over, when the characters wrench the outline from my hands, tear it into shreds and run off in their own direction and I can scarcely type fast enough to keep up. I write for the calm which comes over me, when I have no desire to eat, drink or move for an entire afternoon, yet when I finally rise from the chair to stretch, I am replete and relaxed. I write for the one true sentence (merci, E.H.) that may appear among hundreds of attempts, the sentence for which I can’t quite believe I was responsible when I read it later. I write because I have a loving partner who responds to my comments said in jest or dream about wanting to write full-time by catching my hand, looking me in the eye and saying, “I think you should, Julie.” I write because I’m afraid of what will become of me if I stop.

I know that really, I’m not alone. In the brief time I have explored my voice as a writer, I have discovered the heart of Seattle’s writing community: Richard Hugo House. The handful of Hugo workshops in which I’ve participated have inspired and terrified me. I have walked away from each with ideas, resources and a sense that I’m not entirely insane. Now that I am free from the obligations and pressures of my writing program, I can’t wait to enroll in a long-term Hugo House course. Twitter, of all places, is a community of infinite possibilities. I encounter writers every day and take part in weekly discussion groups with writers of all experience levels. This blog – these pages of rambling, navel-gazing drivel and book reviews – have brought kindred souls into my writing life. My writer’s to-do list includes next weekend’s Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, exploring the online courses offered by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the real-time workshops at Port Townsend’s The Writers’ Workshoppe.

I will regard this ending as a beginning. Whatever I write from this point forward I write for me, on the steam of my imagination and commitment to practice.The blank pages loom large. The feeling is delicious and disturbing.

*title credit to the brilliant songwriters and musicians The Avett Brothers and their song “Ten Thousand Words.” I end my post with additional, painfully fitting, lyrics from this song:

“Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about”

10 thoughts on “Ten thousand words swarm around my head; Ten million more in books written beneath my bed*

  1. I love that you are entering the next phase, the total freedom phase, where you set the pace, observe the obstacles and implement solutions for overcoming them. And you are so not alone, you’ve been building this network of support and interest, a group who already love what you write and can’t wait to read more of it.

    If you can still write with the same passion without that support you speak of, then you know it is meant, in a way that is the more challenging circumstance because the will must come from within. You are the biggest support of all, bonne courage Julie!

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    1. Edith, this is so lovely, thank you! I’m bidding farewell to a busy work week and leaving later today for a writer’s conference. I shall turn my energies to this early next week. I am so honored and touched!

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  2. Every word you have written here resonates with me. Like you I live to write. Like you I am lucky enough to have a partner who tells me to just do it. When I write, I too get lost in the worlds of my own making. When I am writing, I forget that I worry sometimes that I can’t. I too have participated in lots of online writing classes and groups, and wondered how on earth I was going to keep writing after the encouragement and support was gone. Yet somehow I did, and still do. Though there have been lots of hiccups along the way, and though the journey is really only just begun, all that really matters is that right now I am writing. I am living the dream!
    By the way I would love to join you in an online based writer’s group, if you thought such a venture might interest you.

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    1. Julie, I just received the Liebster blogging award and am wondering if you would like me to nominate you. One potential problem might be that you have more than 200 followers???
      The rules are as follows:
      the rules to the award:
      If you are nominated for the award and accept it, then you have won!
      Thank the person who nominated you by linking back to their blog.
      Nominate 5 blogs with less than 200 followers.
      Let the nominees know by leaving a comment on their blog.
      Add the award image to your site (use an image widget to place at bottom/side of blog).
      Let me know! x

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      1. Gobsmacked! Yes, I would love this and no, I have nowhere near 200 followers! I always throw out a post and then shudder to think that anyone would actually read it. 😉

        Congratulations to you, Edith. So well deserved- you have an outstanding and beautiful blog. I would be so honored to be nominated!

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    2. You are such an inspiration, Edith. I know the choice is entirely mine and even for this control freak, the responsibility and possibility make me a slightly queasy!
      Part of me rushes to embrace the idea of a writer’s group, part of me thinks I need to be kicked out of the nest and flail a bit on my own. I’ve got a project ready to begin- I wonder if I shouldn’t have a few chapters underway, but yes, I would love to talk about this!

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      1. Hi Julie, well then let’s keep talking! I’ve added your blog to my links so can stay in touch more easily! I should probably get myself a little more organized before committing to a writing group also, insofar as such a group might involve critiquing. However there may be other ways to approach this concept…..let’s keep thinking, brainstorming and talking! 🙂

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      2. Yes! We will! I took 6-week on-line personal essay writing course last summer. We were a group of 10 or so from around the country and group feedback/critique was a central component of the course. A little scary for the critiquers and the critiqued, but incredibly valuable. The key was leadership from skilled instructor- she modeled effective, objective (as much as could be when writing topics were deeply personal) criticism. It’s truly a skill!

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