The War of Work

IMG-5925My husband bought me a typewriter for a fundraiser for Wordplay, combining my Christmas and birthday gifts. Perhaps he thought I hadn’t worked hard enough writing with a laptop.

He was right.

I hadn’t.

Oh, I had written, every day, it seemed. A city blog with 52 entries. My Mom blog, posting every second or third week. Poems every week with my City Gospel Mission group. A Facebook “teaching moment” that caused a family member to unfriend me. Proposals. Bits and pieces from my novel, rewriting the first paragraphs or the first ten pages of Book One, then Book Two, then switching it up all together and alternating the chapters instead.

Then I discovered Steve Pressfield’s The War on Art. At first, I relished in its simplicity and straightforwardness. Later, I admitted I had yet to take the “you have no excuses” approach to work hard at what I love.

For too long after publishing my memoir, my voice languished in the annals of online activity or suffocated in the mad crush of my mother’s hand. She needed me, I rationalized. My niece needed me. My kids needed me. Plenty of others needed me.

But what did I need? I needed to know what was mine to give to the world.

Pressfield wrote, “The difference between an amateur writer and a professional one, is not about money.” (Mark would argue with that point). The differentiator was truly about the mastery of one’s craft. About working a piece to its bones, adding the flesh, dressing it up, taking it out, and dancing with it.

I had been wallowing around in the amateur ranks for waaayyyyy too long.

As proof, I submitted a proposal for a grant to turn my writings from my blog into a book and larger online project. I toyed with the notion of another grant application, one that would require a year of my time and relinquishment of all other writing/teaching duties. All to avoid where I obviously needed to direct my energy.

Why? Because I never wanted to know the answer to was I good enough?

Did I have enough to say? I had about 50,000 words to say about the city of Cincinnati in my blogs. Annually, I had equally as much to say about the world of dementia. And I had a few poems that made my heart ache whenever I returned to shape them.

Did those words really matter? “A professional distances herself from her instrument,” Pressfield wrote. Like the amateur writer, I was too attached to the idea of being of writer, but struggled to make the idea of actually writing stick.

This month I purchased a new printer from Staples. A young salesperson asked, “What do you do?” I said, “I’m a writer,” but no longer relished in sharing that fact.

He wanted to know, “What do you write?” And it was hard to explain, when I said a little bit of everything, because honestly everyone had these fantasies of writing a column or the great American novel in their long johns with mugs of coffee and a dog at their feet. My real writing life looked that way yet hadn’t produced the said results.

The clerk then posed, “What else are you working on?” And I wondered, “Who are you my husband – or my mother?”

“The professional writer carries an attitude of egolessness and selflessness,” wrote Mr. Pressfield. An air that said, I know this writing is meant to be in the world, and I don’t have to tell anyone about it, but I’ll make it my best because it may be all that is left of me some day.

I had been at work on a novel for nearly five years. It was THE story that coursed through my veins, in one sitting over a month’s time. It was the story that washed over me through my muse, my genius, my dog’s snores. The one to be told because no one else could tell it.

In my renewed commitment, I have read books at the same pace as my niece. After I mailed her three books for Christmas, she read all three in one month. She wanted to be a writer. Late one night, she relayed to me the entire synopsis of a book she wants to write. A thirteen-year-old used the word synopsis. A week later, she thanked me for sending her my amateur memoir, in which I inscribed, “For your journey of becoming a writer.”

She was also a rising singer. When we discussed her interest, I questioned her. “If someone asked you, ‘Deep down, what motivates you to sing – not that you try to sound like Halsey or Adele or Tori Kelly – but what makes you move’, how would you answer?”

“I would tell someone I want my music to help people escape, like it helped me.”

I returned to my writing because I wanted my niece to write. I also wanted her to sing. The best inspiration I could be for her was not contained in my words once written, but in the act of writing.

Last week, My husband and I performed a little feng shui on my office. My desk now faced windows, new light on the page.

IMG-5967Mark was obsessed about the positioning of the typewriter, now behind me, such that I wondered if he had purchased the typewriter for his own use. The other day he typed out my birthday message on the inside of a commercially-produced card.

But I also know the typewriter was really a stand in for him and my muse, which are sometimes the same, a genius breathing, beating, tapping keys over my shoulder. Both needed a new shape to inhabit while waiting.

I would never think world can’t go on without my work. But I do the world no favors by attending to the needs of others while not pursuing my own.

That is the work the world is waiting for, and apparently so is my husband.