Dani Shapiro

“Every day includes much more non-being than being. This is always so. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner. When it is a bad day the proportion of non-being is much larger.”

– Virginia Woolf

February 26, 2013

On the In Between

I forget every time the feeling that hits me when I have finished one book but have not yet begun another.  This between-books limbo is, for me, like a long, slow leaching of color from the world.  A steady decline of mood and connection to the universe until one day I wake up and hardly know who I am.

Because the way I know myself is through the written word.  The ways in which I am able to access any understanding of what makes me tick, how I see the world around me, what I feel, what I know, is through the daily practice of grappling with the page.  The grappling itself is the point.  Ideally something comes of that grappling, eventually.  Every story, novel, essay, memoir begins with that dive, that free fall, that willingness to not know.  We begin with the barest of ideas, a flickering image, a phrase, just outside our grasp, and we begin to try to capture it by sitting with the page and seeing what emerges.

When I’m not engaged in this process a depression settles in.  This time, I think, this time it’s different.  I become convinced that my imagination has taken leave of me.  That I will never become obsessed with a character or a story again.  My mind starts spinning all sorts of stories–and not the good kind of stories.  I feel as if I have split in two, and part of me is on a small boat without oars, drifting slowly out to sea, carried by the tide, watching the other part of me standing on the shore, watching.  Writing brings these two aspects of my nature together.  It weaves the observer, the story teller, the thinker, the dreamer, together into one woman.  It silences my demons by putting them to good use.

As I write I am in a quiet hotel room.  Room service coffee is cooling at my side.  My laptop is balanced on a pillow.  Light streams in from the floor-to-ceiling windows facing east over New York City.  But even this––this small act of thinking about the in between––brings me back inside myself.  I am not aimlessly drifting.  The room sharpens, comes into focus.  My interior life becomes heightened, once again making itself known to me

Do you know those lists of how much time we spend, over the course of a lifetime, brushing our teeth, or taking out the garbage, or talking on the phone, or grocery shopping?  I want to diminish the time I spend in the in-between.  Like Virginia Woolf’s cotton wool, the in-between is a muffled, deadening place.  It is soul-eroding.  You would think it might be a time of gestation — roots beginning to form beneath that frozen ground — but you would be wrong.  The real gestation happens on the page, just so.  A writer’s fingers moving along a keyboard, a pen scratching words.  The next word appears, then the next.  And the next.  And suddenly the sky brightens.  The day beckons.  The simple, elusive act of beginning.  The practice itself, the very point of the thing, and suddenly the in between is revealed for what it really is.

It is all we  have.

January 20, 2013

On Taking Risks

As I write this I’m somewhere between LA and New York, sitting next to my sleeping husband.  It is the first time — I am tempting fate by admitting this — that we have ever taken the same flight together, without our son.  We’ve each taken countless flights solo.  And we’ve flown together as a family (the crazy thinking being that if we go down, at least we’re all together).  We’ve even boarded two separate flights to the same destination, reuniting at the airport in some far-flung place.  But never have we sat together, scrunched into our seats, the two of us high above the planet as somewhere below us, our thirteen year old is watching a football game.  As risks go, I have grown more pragmatic over the years.  Statistically speaking, we’re in better shape than if we were driving, or even taking a walk down a country road.  Risk and the calculations, rumination, and determinations surrounding it — whether avoiding it or embracing it — has been a tape looping through my head for so long that I don’t know who I would be if I weren’t thinking about it. I am a mama bear, a wife, a friend, a niece, a teacher, and I am always thinking of how to keep myself and those I love safe from any imaginable harm.

But when it comes to the writing life, risk is what it’s all about.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that play it safe.  Conventional narratives, characters whose edges are smoothed out to a palatable degree.  Can I just say it?  These books bore me.  I’m bored.  It’s like eating muesli when I want a charred, juicy steak.  I want to read about messiness.  I don’t need the pieces to fit together in fiction — I mean, when do the pieces ever fit together in life?  I want to encounter characters who feel, who do the unexpected.  Who think human thoughts — no matter how dark and flawed and uncomfortable.  I want to be reminded of my own inner landscape, my own complex humanity.  I want to connect — with the book, with myself.  In a recent re-reading of Mrs. Dalloway, I was amazed, as I always am, by the way that Woolf renders Clarissa Dalloway almost see-through, as if we were watching an MRI of her internal life, all the while that she is going about her daily business ––the inner and outer equally accessible.  I felt this thrill of discovery too, when reading Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, a novel in which the author took risk after creative risk but somehow never lost control of his taut narrative, his story.  Walter writes like no one has ever said no to him.  No.  He writes like he has learned not to say no to himself.

If we are to write work that is alive, we have to be willing to head out there on that high wire.  Every day, we have to place one foot, then another, on that thin, quivering line and let go of our ruminations and questions about what might happen.  Maybe it won’t work.  Yeah.  Maybe it will suck.  Maybe I’ll waste my time and precious energy on a piece of prose that will be dead on arrival.  And indeed, yes you may.  But how else are we supposed to discover what’s in there — in the teeming, writhing darkness?  In the frozen tundra?  If we’re sitting alone in our rooms, engaged in this solitary life — a life filled with uncertainty, with constant self-doubt, oh, yes, and with risks of a very practical sort — no one gives us a pension and a retirement plan, after all — then we damned well better be sure that we’re spending it all, shooting it all, holding back nothing.  We need to give it up to the page, not just when it feels good, not when we feel in control of it, but every single time.

December 3, 2012

On Armor

Yesterday morning, as I was getting dressed for an appearance at a speaking engagement, I stood in front of my open closet doors and sorted through my speaking-engagement clothes.  Dark jeans or black pants, a silk blouse of some sort, a nice sweater or jacket.  Boots with heels.  I put on some make-up–just enough to hopefully erase the signs of the previous night, which involved a late dinner with friends at my favorite restaurant.  I put my hair up, chose earrings, a necklace.  A spritz of perfume.

It was a Sunday morning.  My husband was in his office, getting ready for a month-long process of editing his film.  My son was lolling in bed with his ipad.  The dogs were crashed on the floor.  And I was making the shift from my private self to my public self.  And it wasn’t easy.  As I dressed, the feeling I had was one of arming myself — not because I wasn’t looking forward to the event (I was) but because, for writers, going out into the world requires some doing.  We spend our lives in a solitary way.  I write this, I am sitting on my chaise lounge in the clothes I slept in and a pair of socks from one of those in-flight kits.  I will probably not speak to a soul all day, unless you count the dogs (here, the dialogue consists of, bujabujabu, and i love you do you know that? and who wants a treat?)  My own face will surprise me in the mirror, should I pass a mirror, because the act of writing is, for me, a kind of self-forgetting.  Take someone who lives in this realm of self-forgetting and put her in front of an audience, and there you have it.  The dilemma.  The modern writer’s conundrum.

I worry that I will be misunderstood.  That the lovely people who booked me for yesterday’s engagement will think I didn’t have a good time (I did!).  What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public.  A person who spends days–weeks–speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking–in fact, being–comfortable.  It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life.  And what I have discovered, over these recent years when I’ve been doing a lot more public speaking, is that it requires a kind of armor.

This armor extends beyond the dark jeans, the silk blouse, the make-up.  The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self.  Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes.  I mean, really rolled her eyes.  A full eye-roll, heavenward.  Her body language said: I’m not buying it.  It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over?  Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt.  But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  How was I failing?  Where was I going wrong?  Why, oh why, didn’t she like me?  It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still.  This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones.  Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.

So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us?  For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now.  It’s to return to the solitude.  To the chaise lounge, the dogs, the pajamas.  To return to the page, the blank and glorious page, and look up, hours later, realizing that the armor has slipped away.


September 26, 2012

On Openness

I’m writing this in a crowded cafe in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.  My thirteen year old son is sitting across a round table from me.  We’re both clacking away on our laptops––he’s ostensibly doing homework.  He’s drinking a vanilla steamer.  Me, a cappuccino.  It’s loud here.  Conversation, music, a blender making smoothies.  Our suitcases are under the table, because we’re being picked up in a few hours to be taken to the airport–on our way home after five days visiting my husband, who is directing his first film here.

How do we hold on to ourselves when life isn’t routine–which is to say, most of the time?  I am a creature of habit, quite possibly neurotically so.  I eat the same thing for lunch every day, for instance.  I make my bed the minute I awake in the morning.  I have certain requirements: solitude, silence, enough hours, caffeine.  But for a while now, nothing has been routine.  I’ve finished a book, and am nowhere near starting a new one.  (I’m never near starting a new one until the day I do.)  I’ve been writing a little of this, a little of that.  My husband is away for months.  My kid is in eighth grade, and we’re looking at high schools.  It’s a particularly rich, completely nutty time.

In the midst of this, yesterday, someone (okay, a lady blow-drying my hair) asked me where I find inspiration.  The question stopped me, for a moment, because I realized that I was very far from inspiration because the practices that allow me access to myself behind myself (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson) had fallen by the wayside.  I hadn’t packed my yoga mat on this trip.  I had only managed to practice once.  Meditation?  As if.  Reading?  I had brought Cloud Atlas with me on the flight down, but had read this instead.

“Everywhere,” I answered the hair stylist.  “I find inspiration everywhere, as long as my eyes are open.”

Ah, but this is it–what it’s all about–this openness.  We writers (if I may generalize) are such sensitive creatures.  I’ve heard it said that we’re born with one less layer of skin than most people.  Maintaining this openness — when in the midst of the noise, the crowds, life’s dailiness, can be incredibly challenging.  When I’m home and in my routine, I find it easier to be open because my routines support me.  But it’s a luxury, and unrealistic, to think that I can live that way all the time.

So I look around me.  The boy, scribbling now in his math notebook.  The woman behind the counter who also works in the local theatre.  The smells and tastes.  This unfamiliar town.  I remind myself to breathe deeply, to fill my lungs, to stop protecting myself…from what?  This noise, this pace, this tumult, right now, today, this is my life.  If I am not present for it, if I’m simply getting through it until I’m finally back in my house on top of the hill with my bed made and my yoga mat unrolled, my favorite yogurt in the fridge, the silence and space and solitude I crave but can’t always have––well, then.   All sorts of gifts may pass me by.

August 10, 2012

On Reasons

“Stories seem to say everything happens for a reason, and I want to say, no it doesn’t.”  These words from David Shields recently stood out for me, as I’ve been mulling over the reasons why my work, for the past number of years, has grown more and more fragmented.  I’ve been less interested in traditional narratives, but instead, have found myself––in Devotion, in a new essay called “Evil Tongue” that will be coming out here, and in my new book, Still Writing––writing in a puzzle-like, mosaic structure in which the white space between pieces, the juxtaposition of this piece against that, are part of the story itself.  Why?  I’ve been wondering.  Especially when my novels, up to this point, have tended toward traditional narrative.  What’s going on?

The more I live, the more I find myself conscious both of pattern and of randomness.  Of senselessness, and the need to impose order on what otherwise feels chaotic, a jumble, like hundreds of pieces of a complicated puzzle strewn all over the floor.   We turn to the left, walking down the street, and run into an old friend–an encounter that changes the course of our day, or perhaps even the shape of our lives.  (Who knows?)  We turn left, walking down the street, and a piece of concrete falls from the roof of a building and slams… where?  If we’ve stopped to tie a shoelace, it falls a few yards in front of us.  If we’ve hurried, quickening our step, it falls… Well, you get my point.

I have a feeling that those of us who spend our days alone in our rooms working out stories on the page and in our heads obsess about the question of pattern and randomness.  On the idea of imposing reasons and order, thereby shaping events, creating a narrative out of the puzzle pieces.  In a story I once wrote called “Plane Crash Theory”, the couple at the center of the story neglects to buy carpeting for the stairs of their brownstone.  A babysitter slips on the stairs — and their baby is put in jeopardy.   Their financial irresponsibility, the wife’s decision to place a vase of flowers in an indentation near the top of the stairs (called, in one of those great gifts life hands writers sometimes, a “coffin”) — all of these are puzzle pieces.  That was a story that couldn’t have been written in a linear way.  One thing did not lead to the next, and the next… but in the mind of the wife, who narrates the story, they began to adhere to one another in a way that spelled disaster.

I’ve just turned in Still Writing.  (I know… I buried that lede.  More on my new book later, but suffice it to say for now that I will no longer be able to say that I’m still writing Still Writing.)   And as I think of what’s next, once again I find myself drawn to the fragments, the shards, the great mystery and the desire––that obsession that I think we all share––to make sense out of this wild, improbable, accidental, singular life.


June 21, 2012

On Why We Write

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write.  Which, of course, is the title of George Orwell’s 1946 essay, which was then stolen by Joan Didion for her 1976 essay, and most recently by our new poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, in a February 2011 essay on poetry, history, and social justice.  Why write?  As I am finishing (yes, finishing) my new book, Still Writing, I come back, again and again, to the question of my own motivation,  formative thought, feeling, geography, history–-all of which has led to this strange, out-of-step life.  It is a life of surprising gifts, unsurprising indignities; despair, elation, rejection, and––to use Martha Graham’s phrase––queer, divine dissatisfaction.  A life that I did not choose to live–but one that chose me.

Why write?  Orwell’s essay is about political purpose.  “I cannot say with certainty which of my motivations are strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed; and, looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives, and humbug generally.”

Didion’s essay is, at its core, about emotional and intellectual clarity:  “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

My favorite passage in Trethewey’s recent essay is her response to the question, why poetry?  “Because poetry ennobles the human soul; it opens–not closes–our hearts.  Poetry matters not only because of its aesthetic beauty, but also because of the possibility of humane intelligence–its ability to teach us what we have not known, to show us what we have been blind to, to ask us the most difficult questions regarding our own humanity and that of others.  Across time and space, it shows us how we are alike, not that we are different.”

There you have it, all of it, the whole megillahWe are creatures of our moment, of our birthplace (“Geography is fate” said Heraclitus), of our circumstances, our loves and our losses, our preoccupations, our obsessions––which is to say, our themes.  We cannot free ourselves of these any more than we can shed our own skin.  And why would we want to?  They are our own small corner of this universal crazy quilt.  Why write?  To shine a light; to right a wrong; to shape chaos into art; to know what we think; to pose difficult questions; to challenge our own beliefs; to connect.

Because we have to.


May 30, 2012

On Doing What Scares You

I’ve been thinking lately about courage and confidence and how these are two words which might seem, on the surface, to be closely related, but actually have very different implications when it comes to the writing life.  Confidence is highly overrated.  Show me a confident writer, and in all likelihood you will also be showing me work that falls short of originality or greatness — because originality and greatness come from the willingness to take risks.  To leap into the void.  To do what scares you.  And while it may seem that this leap would take confidence, what it really takes to leap is courage.  Which is a whole other kettle of fish.

Courage involves feeling your fear — and doing it anyway.  There isn’t a day when I sit down to write that I am not afraid.  Oh, this fear can disguise itself in any number of ways: it can look like resistance, or exhaustion, or distraction, or despair.  It can even look like online shopping.  But what it is, really––bottom line––is the fear that I won’t be able to pull it off.  Whatever vision exists in my mind, whatever perfect iteration of an idea, will never be achieved.  So why bother?  Why even try?

I’ve been reading quite a lot of work lately that plays it safe.  Some of this work is very good, technically.  It reads smoothly, it contains within it some lovely imagery, some fluid sentences.  But in the end, I walk away from the page, already forgetting.  If we are going to spend our lives sitting alone in rooms––I don’t know about you, but I’m still wearing this morning’s yoga clothes, haven’t even practiced yoga yet, and haven’t left the house today except to walk the dogs––if we are going to live this strange, out-of-step existence,  sometimes lonely and certainly filled with rejection and indignity––then the reward for that, counter-intuitive though it may be, is to face our fears, to make the leap, to dare, to be willing to fall flat on our faces, every day, every single time.




April 9, 2012

On the Fleas of Life

I just came across this phrase in a Paris Review interview of William Styron, conducted in Paris, in 1954, by George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen.  When asked if young writers of that time were at a greater disadvantage than writers of previous generations, Styron responded: “Hello no, I don’t.  Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one word––life (emphasis mine).  Every writer since the beginning of time, just like other people, has been afflicted by what a friend of mine calls ‘the fleas of life’––you know, colds, hangovers, bills, sprained ankles, and little nuisances of one sort or another.  They are the constants of life, at the core of life, along with nice little delights that come along every now and then.”

Are you nodding in recognition?  The fleas of life.  It’s so easy to let them get in the way.  Or to become so busy swatting at them that we get nothing else done.  To be honest, I have just had one of those days.  Oh, I accomplished a lot, if you consider making dentist appointments, arranging upcoming travel, answering emails, taking care of a few literary obligations, and collecting the mail to be accomplishments.  After having been away for the past three weeks in Europe (I know, cry me a river) I’m wary of my manuscript, which has assumed an air of danger in my absence, like a caged and feral animal I have been neglecting.  As Annie Dillard has written about neglecting work: “You must visit it every day and assert your mastery over it.  If you miss a day, you are quite rightly afraid to open the door to its room.  You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!'”

The fleas of life are always buzzing about.  On good writing days, we’re able to ignore them and get to work––and once we do, they miraculously vanish.  But on bad writing days, the fleas take over.  They become a thick, grey wall that we can’t see through, and we get distracted by them, we give up, we lose the day.  It’s a parodox I think about a great deal.  In order to write, we need to push past our own frustration, resistance.  We don’t begin in placidity.  We begin, most of us, most of the time, feeling like our heads are about to explode.  We feel surges of energy running through our bodies; we are barely able to contain them.  But then––once we have begun, we settle down at some point.  The fleas disappear.  When asked in the same interview whether his emotional state has any bearing on his work, Styron responded: “I guess like everybody I’m fouled up most of the time, but I find I do better when I’m relatively placid.  It’s hard to say, though.  If writers had to wait until their precious psyches were completely serene there wouldn’t be much writing done.  Actually––though I don’t take advantage of the fact as much as I should––I find that I’m simply the happiest, the placidest, when I’m writing, and so I suppose that that, for me, is the final answer.”

If we wait for the fleas of life to disappear––or if we succumb to our own frustration, our own fouled-up-ness, the discomfort that goes hand-in-hand with sitting down to write––we will be waiting a good long time.  And we’ll be in danger of forgetting the feeling–– ironed-clean,  lucid,  clear, even hopeful––that visits us at the end of a day spent writing.

February 28, 2012

On Expectations

It isn’t easy, is it?  Let me back up, for the sake of perspective, and point out that obviously there are other ways of living that are a whole lot harder.  That, as I sit in my bathrobe on my chaise lounge in my little study with my two dogs crashed at my feet in my empty, quiet house looking out the window at stone walls winding through vast meadows, trying to come up with just the right words, or even an approximation of the right words, I am not comparing my circumstances to, say, the construction workers who are on lifts right now to the ninety-sixth story of a building site, or, god knows, journalists trying to shed light on the situation in Syria, or the emergency room nurse on the overnight shift.  No.  I’m simply saying that it isn’t easy, this business of creating something out of nothing.

Why do we do it?  I can tell you why I do it.  I write because, if I didn’t, I would likely lose my mind.  I write because, in writing, the world around me begins to assume a shape.  I write because, when I don’t, I feel not-quite-alive, at a remove from everything and everyone I love.  I don’t write because I enjoy it.  I don’t write because it’s fun.  Honestly, it’s so rarely fun.  Other words come to mind: satisfying, intense, engaging, maddening, absorbing, surprising.  But not fun.  Having written is another story.  That spent feeling at the end of a long writing day, a day in which one has wrung out every last bit of what was possible, that feeling, I’d wager, is part of what we writers live for.

Still, even twenty years into this writing life, I sometimes hold on to the expectation that it will be…easier.  Not the work itself, but the life.  How many of us, especially these days, are living under a cloud of anxiety?  We wonder about the future of books.  Of publishers.  Of agents.  All of the old signifiers have vanished.  Book tours?  Not so much.  And even for those who go on them, they’re not what they used to be.  They’re pit stops at hotels overlooking  interstate highways, appearances at bookstores where the audience consists of five people: the bookstore manager,  two of  your local cousins, a young woman inexplicably crying in the third row, and a homeless man who shuffles in and promptly falls asleep.  Publication date, for most, is the tree falling in the forest.  The sound of one hand clapping.

And so.  Why is this not depressing?  (Oops, sorry.  Maybe it is, just a little bit.)  I’ll tell you why.  I just looked up from my screen and once again looked out the window.  Then I glanced around my little office: by my feet, my manuscript of Still Writing, along with The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and a book of drawings made of poems by Mark Strand.  On the table next to me: a cup of coffee rests on top of Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner; The Book of Awakening by the brilliant Mark Nepo, which I have been reading at the start of most days; Daniel Mendelson’s The Lost.  On the wall facing me, a bulletin board covered with index cards, scribbled with notes and ideas.  On this bulletin board, something catches my eye: a quote I don’t remember finding or putting up there:

“The first task, though not the most important task, is to quiet the busyness in your mind.  The second task is to find your song.  And the third task is to sing your song.”

We get the opportunity, every single day, to quiet our minds.  To find our song.  And to sing it.  Once, when I was in graduate school, a mentor of mine put the writing life into perspective: “All we have a right to expect,” she said, “is the chance to do it again.”  This––the singing of the song, the opportunity to wake up in the morning and do it again––is the beginning and the end of what we can hope for.

January 26, 2012

On Getting Out of Our Own Way

Here’s the way an ideal writing day goes: I wake up early and do the knapsack/lunchbox/breakfast/off-to-school thing and my family toodles down the driveway while I still have a clear, unperturbed mind.  I make my second cappuccino of the morning and climb the stairs to my office where I do a quick email check, find nothing aggravating, then a scan of the news, and by eight a.m. I have settled in to work.  I turn the software program “Freedom” on, disabling the Internet on my computer, in the event that the lure of checking Facebook or Twitter proves too much for me.  I work, uninterrupted, for a couple of hours.  I head back downstairs, take the dogs out for some air, then throw ingredients for a stew into the slow cooker.  Back upstairs I go.  Another hour or two of work on my book.  A one-hour yoga break at lunchtime.  Revision, and the business of writing in the afternoon.  By the time four o’clock rolls around, I’m spent, feel good about the work I’ve done that day (not to mention the dinner in the slow cooker, the yoga) and I drive to my son’s school to pick him up, cheerful and available for quality family time.

How often does a day like this happen?  Well, I had one yesterday, which is why this description is so fresh in my mind.  But really–how often?  Probably about once every two weeks, if I’m completely honest.  Something usually gives.  I struggle with getting to the page in the morning, and it’s noon before I begin to accomplish anything.  I get sidetracked by a disappointing email, or an exciting email.  It almost doesn’t matter what the content, a full in-box is always over-stimulating.  I don’t get to the yoga mat.  I don’t make dinner.  My work suffers.  Four o’clock rolls around and my head feels like it’s about to pop off my shoulders, and when I pick my son up at school, I am in a fog, emotionally unavailable and hating myself for it.

The question, really, is why?  Rarely, it happens that something legitimate gets in my way.  Say, a leak in the house.  A blizzard.  A call that a friend’s parent has passed away.  You know, life.  But more often than not, the only thing getting in my way is me.  Sound familiar?  It seems so simple, so obvious that all we need to do is get out of our own way.  Set up some ground rules (no internet, no email, no phone) and just follow them.  But we all know that it isn’t that easy.  And the reason it isn’t easy is because writing is hard.  It ain’t for sissies.  It’s painful, exhausting, and it exposes nerves we didn’t even know we had, not to mention turmoil.  It unleashes the beast of memory.  Left to our own devices, we will do anything to avoid it.  Even though we know that we’ll feel better if we just sit down and get to work.

Consider this a challenge.  Just this morning I saw a tweet (yep, today wasn’t as good as yesterday) about a 28 day meditation challenge a favorite teacher of mine is starting.  Well, how about a 28 day writing habits challenge.  Do just these three things religiously: 1) begin your day by reading something nourishing, remembering Jane Kenyon‘s advice to always have good sentences in your ears.  2) Wait until you’ve been at work for a while––say, an hour––before checking email or going online.  If you can’t do it on your own, download Freedom.  And 3) Take a yoga or a meditation break––even if you don’t do yoga or meditate.  Even if you’re totally resistant to the idea.  Just try it.  Here are a few suggestions.  Oh, and one more, a treasure trove of talks about meditation.   I’ll be doing this too.  Please let me know how it’s going!