“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 puts your thoughts where you can see them. Writing adds awareness and clarity. 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. 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. Make up a story? That was possible?
Even at age seven, 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 about 300 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 and chased cows and kept the homefires burning.
Unlike every other girl I knew, 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.
Over the last twenty years I’ve published academic essays (you can find one in the Norton Critical edition of The Scarlet Letter), and hundreds of poems. I have three books of poetry, The Coyotes and My Mom (Bellowing Ark Press, 1990), Be Careful (a limited edition chapbook from Chuckanut Sandstone, 2005), and Sparrow (Big Pencil Press, 2012), which won the Gell Poetry Prize. In addition to the Gell Prize, I have won several poetry awards, including Calyx’s Lois Cranston Memorial Prize. All of this I managed by writing in the interstices of a busy life.
More recently, my girls are growing up, my mother is ill, and I’ve retired from full-time teaching. I have continued to keep busy with the apparatus of a writing life, recently co-editing Vol. 2 of World Peace Poems, and negotiating with Poetry Northwest about what role I may next take with them.
I am still writing. I’ve been at work on a novel–hard at work–for the last couple of years, while also working on and reading poems, poems, and more poems. I’m also attempting to step up my send-out game. (Click on the link to go to my earlier blog, One Bad Poem, where I’ll be posting some “retired” poems.)
If I can find time to write, so can you. If you don’t have scads of time, write for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes sounds like too much? Write for five minutes.
And let me know what happens.