“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard
This is what I know about writing.
Writing down your dreams gives them an engine to move them forward. Writing down your fears renders them small and laughable. Writing a simple to-do list and checking it off makes you feel accomplished and able. Writing a note to a child and taping it to her door is more effective than saying anything out loud. Writing gives you a bright light to shine on your darkest thoughts. Writing adds awareness and clarity to whatever you’re going through. Writing can be revised, scribbled out, taken back, thrown in the trash, rewritten and rewritten until it says exactly what you hoped to say. Writing moves your hand and your heart. Writing can mend a broken relationship. Writing can heal you. Writing deliberately, intentionally every day, even for only a few minutes, will transform your life.
I began taking myself seriously as a writer when I was seven-years old, when Mrs. Ruby Smarz, my second grade teacher at Pe Ell Elementary School, thumbtacked a picture above the chalkboard and instructed her earnest little class to “Make up a story.” She may as well have handed me the moon and stars in a bucket. I reeled. Make up a story? That was possible?
Even as a little girl, I had stories I was itching to tell. I lived on a farm in southwest Washington State, in the house my grandfather had built a generation and a half earlier. My mom was the 11th of 15 children; I was one of five children and had hundreds of cousins. My dad’s family, in Oregon, was not quite so large, but equally interesting with ancestors who had come west by covered wagon. He was a logger, working in the woods, while my mother raised kids, chased cows, and kept the homefires burning.
Unlike everyone else I was related to, I didn’t get married right out of high school, and instead spent several years waiting tables and doing other sorts of work (opening restaurants, working in a home office, writing newsletters and training manuals) in the restaurant industry. Encouraged by a generous boss and his wife, I made up my mind to follow my heart and go to college, where I eventually earned an MFA in poetry and a PhD in American Literature from the University of Washington, served as a poetry editor for Seattle Review, volunteered with both the Castalia and Watermark Reading Series at the UW, and—oh yeah—married, adopted three daughters, found a tenure-track community college teaching job…and kept writing.
Now that I am retired from full-time teaching, you’d think I would have all the time anyone could need. But life has a way of filling up one’s schedule. I have to be deliberate about making time each day for my writing. I have to say no to some choices in order to choose writing. My practice—my long habit—of setting a timer and beginning anchors and sustains my writing practice.
So this is what I know about writing. If I can find time to write, so can you. If you don’t have scads of time, write for fifteen minutes. If fifteen minutes sounds like too much, write for five minutes. Repeat daily.
And let me know what happens. I’d love to hear from you.