On Writing and Life: Trying Again

Sometimes when I sit down to write I have nothing to say. Sometimes I can think of no words and no cute attention-gripping anecdotes or funny stories to share with whomever out there in the world might stumble across my words here. Sometimes the well of creativity and ideas and inspiration in my head feels like it has run depressingly dry and I am left waiting for the drought to pass.

But it doesn’t.

So I sit and I wait for it to happen. I wait to draw from the well. And if too much time passes, I know that I will grow ridden with anxiety and insecurity and irrational feelings about my adequacy as writer and a woman and it will feel like the world will come to a catastrophic and horrific end because I can’t string five words together to form a sentence. And if too much more time passes and the cursor has still not yet moved from the same spot it has stood, blinking forebodingly at me from the screen, not only will the world end — my career and passion for writing will also have ended and I will slap down my laptop screen convinced that I got it all wrong. I was never meant to write. I was meant to make scrapbooks or bake gluten-free cookies or collect buttons. This writing thing was big, fat mistake. This self-induced inner temper tantrum usually lasts a couple of hours. Maybe even a whole or half a day. But then I eat a cupcake and watch some Seinfeld and cry to my best friend on the phone about how it is all just-so-confusing-and-hard and why did we have to grow up and become adults?! and I typically feel better.

Sometimes you just have to let it out that way.

Once I feel more like myself and have recalibrated my thoughts to better accommodate rational and realistic thinking, I then sit back down and do what I know I need to do.

I try again.

Perhaps this time the words come to me and flow forth in perfectly poetic prose from my fingers. Or perhaps they don’t and all I can think to write is “I want spaghetti,” or “Angelina Jolie isn’t really that hot, is she?” or “I should probably not still be in my pajamas.”

Either way, to know I have sat down to try again is where I can take solace and feel a consolation for my efforts, whether or not there is any return. Because sometimes, chasing and pursuing something isn’t the way to get it. Like a rabbit or a butterfly, it is sitting in patience and peace and quiet that will possibly attract it into your path. Running after it will only scare it away and burn you out and leave you unsatisfied. But to sit in the stillness of the moment and discipline the mind to wait and welcome whatever comes or doesn’t come to us is often more effective and inviting. And a lot more sane.

Being a writer can be really exhausting in this way. I don’t always have a story or a point or purpose when I sit down to write, or at the time that I wish I did most. The temptation to give up or fabricate and devalue my work by playing fake and phony rather than doing the work required to get to the meat of what needs to be written and to the core of the story that needs to be told is hard to resist. Playing pretend is a lot sexier and much easier. But sexy and easy are not what I’m after.

One of my favorite quotes and pieces of advice on writing belongs to Ernest Hemingway. And that is this: “all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

When I sat down to write today I did not know what I would write about. I had nothing. But even when I think I have nothing, I always have the truth. The truth is always there, fluttering it’s wings through the breeze like a butterfly waiting to find a quiet, peaceful place to land.

I can always draw from the well of what I know to be true.

And what is true for me today is this: I am imperfect and broken and sometimes frustratingly uninspired, in my life and in my writing and work. I am prone to pity myself and question my identity and abilities and worth as a woman and a wife and writer. I am not good at being still and living in the moment because much of my life and dependency on the superficial is designed to escape the moment rather than to embrace it. What else is true? It is true that despite these things, I am still okay. I am still loved, wanted, and accepted by God. I am still extraordinary. I am still uniquely beautiful in my own way. I am still human. Scuffed-up and scarred and starving for connection and purpose and growth, just like you — I am still human. Some days it is not easy to sit with this truth. Some days I simply fail at believing it. But just as it is with writing, I have a cupcake, watch some Seinfeld, and maybe have a good cry and then get up and do the only thing that makes sense.

I try again.

And therein lies the difference between the courageous and the cowardly. Courage lifts up her head when she is unsure and broken with no well to draw from. Cowardice lays in the muck and waits for the well to magically fill. And when confronted, she plays pretend in favor of what is sexy over what is true.

Failure is a painful and difficult teacher. Because in the same way that sitting down to write when I can think of no words teaches me to keep at it and keep trying to find that “one true sentence” as Hemingway says — failure begs the question “will you stay down or stand up and start over?” How I live my life depends on my response to this. And today I want to stand and choose courage. Because I want that to be what is most true about my identity as a writer and as a woman who is just trying to get it right, both on paper and in life.

Bio: Jamie Berube is a recent transplant to Southern California from the South where she works as a social worker and freelance writer. She misses the boiled peanuts and thunderstorms and her mama’s lasagna back home in Florida where she spent her childhood as a barefoot tomboy but have learned a lot from the mysteries of the Wild West. Writing is her passion. She seeks to use every opportunity she has and view every life experience as valuable to her growth as a writer. She blogs at: Everydaydolce.com and tweet at @jamberube

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Comments

  1. I love your truths. And your writing. Thank you so much for sharing it here!

  2. The other day I wrote a note about writing comparing it to fishing. Seems to me that there are a lot of similarities if you take the writer to be the one with the line and pole and the fish to be ideas skimming around just beneath the surface. If you’re not getting bites at the regular fishing hole, you move to another one and do your best. You don’t sit still and wait for the fish to come back to you. Seems to me writing’s the same way. If you sit and wait for ideas, they simply might not come. That’s just the nature of it. But if you get up and move to another spot and watch the world from over there and jot down a line or two about what you see, well, you might end up with a bucket of ideas worth putting to market.

    Then again, I’m not a fisherman.

  3. Writing is such labor of love, it’s frustrating when the words don’t flow freely and I’m stuck.

    I love the feeling when a story pours out of me, I wish it happened more!

    Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to know others struggle with the same things!

  4. Jamie, thank you so very much for this. It is exactly where I happen to find myself right now. I am trying not to panic about the emptiness. Maybe I need another cupcake? Some more Seinfeld? (I’ve already done the crying bit.) I really appreciate your honesty and sharing with us here.!

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