Yesterday, I taught a writing class. We flipped through dogeared pages of Bird by Bird together on a screened-in back porch that overlooked a wooded lot with trees changing colors on me. We waited for the french press to brew our Starbucks medium roast, then wrapped cold fingers around steaming mugs as the temperature dropped. We munched on Panera cinnamon scones and berry muffins as we went around the table sharing our secret writing dreams.
Everyone shared some version of, I’ve always loved to write, but I’m not sure what to write or where to write or how to write.
We discussed Anne Lamott’s broccoli metaphor, how we have to figure out whatever it takes to dig up our childhood imaginations, our ability to know we hate the taste of broccoli before we ever learned to block that innocent, small voice with the dominating voice of parental reasoning.
As Lamott says, “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”
We read Mary Karr’s advice on sacred carnality, using your senses in writing so that “the reader gets zipped into your skin.” Was the boy we kissed years ago chewing Bazooka Joe or Dubble Bubble? We will learn to let go of the caring about mixed up details.
As Karr says, “…readers understand the flaws of memory and allow for them.”
I read one of my favorite chapters of Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle. The part where her family had no money, but instead of writing this bitter account of a ruined Christmas, she transforms it into a magical tale of when her dad gave them each a star.
“No one owns the stars,” she said.
“That’s right,” her Dad said. “No one else owns them. You just have to claim it before anyone else does…”
I thought about it and realized Dad was right. He was always figuring out things like that.
I set the timer on my iPhone for 10 minutes. They put pens to the pages and finished a freewriting exercise on just one word: Christmas. “Don’t stop,” I said. “Keep writing. Don’t look back at what you wrote. Just keep going.”
For the whole 10 minutes, I wrote with them my own version of Christmas, where my brother and I waited at the top of the stairs with jittering slippered feet for Dad to check if Santa really came, always leaving too many presents under the tree, wrapped with our own individual gift wrap to designate the girl side and the boy side of the tree. I can still smell the turkey bacon.
But really, as they all wrote with hands cramping, spewing thoughts that I promised no one would read, I couldn’t shake this country song I keep hearing on the radio. You’ve gotta love like there’s no such thing as a broken heart.
It’s exactly what I wanted to tell them.
Keep writing. No matter what the inner and outer critics say, just keep writing.
Keep writing. No matter what it feels like when your heart breaks after you put your spewed then polished thoughts out there to an audience of trolls and ghosts.
You’ve just gotta keep writing.