Starting Over

I read this article in Slate about the current glut of first-person narratives online. Two or three years ago I started revising several of my essays about marriage and parenting. Most were confessional and tended to turn didactic at their conclusions. Some were pieces I still value because writing them was enough. But some were pieces I wanted to immediately share – and did, with a workshop or friend. And then I wanted a wider audience.

It’s the start of another semester teaching creative writing, which means I guide students as they begin or re-establish their writing practice. Which means I feel a little new to writing practice too when we talk about Natalie Goldberg’s rules and give ourselves permission to write anything. Anything in your notebooks, I tell my classes. And later, we’ll talk about how to pull poetry and narrative from those pages. Later, we’ll practice revision. And later, we’ll share.

But first, fill the pages. And fill the pages without an audience waiting to eat your story.

If I imagine an experience or emotion as a personal essay, I lose a little recklessness in my writing. Or I discount the value of writing it at all because who wants to read this junk? No one. So why write it?

I write the junk anyway. I need to relearn my writing practice. I tell my students to trust the process, they’ll be surprised what shows up, the honesty and depth, the gorgeous phrases, the fun stories. Trust the process, I say because I know most of my students will discover power and beauty in writing until their hands hurt. I want that again. I’ve expected too much from my writing. I’ve been greedy. I didn’t just write my heart out, I wrote my heart out and wanted you to read it and like it. I read that Slate piece thinking I would’ve whored my writing a couple of years ago because all I wanted was an audience. And now?

I still want publication. But I also want to learn the craft so when the time comes for my work to land in print, you’ll read it because it’s good, not just because the title is clickbait. I don’t really know how to write right now. So I’m starting over with my notebook, writing anything and pushing the wider audience away.

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