Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where are the firecrackers?

Hello.  I must confess, I’m not really myself this week.  I am up to my armpits in grant-writing, trying to wrangle a herd of ideas into a nicely written corral of specific aims by Friday.  The writing is going okay, I think.  I’m not feeling quite as Whee! as I did when I was writing this grant the first time, in the early months of this year.  The revision process has been a lot more work than I was anticipating, and that truth has been hard for me to swallow.  I also feel pulled in about five different directions at any given moment, so finding the discipline to just effing FOCUS has been hard.  I’m kind of a spaz most of the time, though I do have my laserlike moments.

The strategy I’ve been using to force myself to write is the two-hour rule.  Just try to write for two hours.  Two hours!  It’s a pretty nice length of time, I think, long enough for a nap, or to cook a good dinner, or to make love.  Two hours is long enough for my jumpy nerves to calm down and just effing focus.  When I think about trying to get the whole grant written and revised, I want to use those two hours to take a nap.  But when I think about writing for two hours, without expecting to finish anything, somehow I can do it.

And then I have moments like today where I can almost feel that magic hum of a good writing session.  I was writing a brand-new aim, so I had opened up a fresh document in Microsoft Word, and I was doing that thing where I’m alternately holding my head, feeling the despair of no words, and grasping at little eureka moments: “Oh, that’s what I should say here!”  I was walking the tightrope between doom and delight.  But slowly, with the blessing of that two-hour promise I made myself, things started to coalesce.  I was finally able to articulate ideas that I had percolated weeks earlier, and oh hey, look at that—I’m even able to refer to an idea that we’re going to bring up in the next aim of the grant!  Oh, snap!  (But note to self: you need to go back and edit that part.)

Writers have a tendency to be a bit melodramatic about their writing and writing process.  For me, the battle is always showing up.  For everything in my life, the battle is showing up.  I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and call myself brilliant, but I can be certain that if I rise to the writing challenge with enough time, patience, and energy to write, then I know that whatever I have written that day, week, or month is the best I can do.  And I think that should be enough.  We should accept our best for what it is: honest work.  Maybe I’m biased because I’m in science and so much of our work is just keeping the nose to the grindstone (or, as Matt likes to say, getting behind the mule), but I do believe that most of writing is not magic.  It’s discipline.

And yet, I have my magic moments too.  They happen with blogging and with scholarly writing, those shimmering minutes when the writing feels effortless, the ideas are flying, and you are fire.  I love it when something vague crystallizes into a sentence so clearly I can practically hear the clink of wine glasses, toasting me for my brilliance.  I write as much because I have to write—whether I like it or not!—as I do for those moments when it all comes together.  In those moments, I don’t even feel like myself, a unique body-mind package.  Instead, I’m part of the words and the ideas spilling out onto the page.  I am one with the writing.  Laugh if you want—the religious mystics will know what I mean.  The call to write, even if you think your writing sucks and you are the worst writer to ever herd words, is as much a spiritual quest as any divine calling.  To write is to capture the Universe in words and to share it with the rest of us.

This is why, even if I’m frustrated, overwhelmed, or just exhausted by my writing task, I am still grateful for the task itself.  Because I do believe that writing is magic.  Not that my writing in particular is magic, but that the process of writing is something to revere.  It’s sort of unfortunate that even when I feel like I’m flying on the page, there is no shooting star above my head, no fireworks announcing my epiphanies.  It’s just me and my little laptop, click-click-clicking away.  Where are the fireworks, I ask you!  They’re all in my head.

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Yes, I know I promised another installment of my sad story, but like I said, I’m up to my armpits in grant-writing.  I’ve gotta get this deadline behind me, but I promise, I’ll come back to the story of October 7 and the days that followed it.

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