All of the hazards to daily writing happened at once. I fought a nasty virus, took a vacation, and finished a huge writing project all in the same month. Any one of those events could stop me from a disciplined writing practice for a week or two. But when they happened almost simultaneously over a relatively short period of time, I felt like a butterfly with broken wings–incapable of movement and uncertain about how to repair myself.
I wanted to celebrate the writing project that had taken me years to complete, yet because that project was a memoir, along with that effervescent bubbling of joy over a writing dream fully realized, I felt emotionally depleted . There was such a back and forth motion to my moods—first, elation and pride, then an overwhelming rush of the re-experiencing of the life events I’d written about in the memoir (and some I didn’t write about,) followed by a feeling of dread (oh no, the querying process awaits and what writing project am I going to focus on next?)—that I felt battered. Where was my usual calm? What had happened to the IV drip of inspiration I craved? The daily writing that anchored me?
Yes, I know I’m being hard on myself. I should allow myself permission to rest, to allow the well to fill up again before dipping the bucket in and expecting an overflow. But that’s not how I operate. I need the writing to feel whole. In so many ways, the writing is what fills up the well. So, I write a little every day, building up my writing muscles again, recognizing that in taking baby steps, I’m moving forward. I’m repairing myself.
The butterfly may have broken wings, but in almost every case, she can still fly.
I hear the distinctive buzzing and immediately look up from whatever I’m doing. Within seconds, a hummingbird has arrived on my back deck, its wings dizzy with motion. The sound is generally known as a humming, but honestly, to me, it sounds more like a tweeting buzz. He captivates me completely as I watch him dip his beak over and over again, then zip away as quickly as he came, a blur in mid-air. One has a ruby throat, the next, a metallic green. I’m so fascinated that I watch, every time, as if I’ve never seen one before. With the visitation of each hummingbird, I feel that I’ve witnessed something miraculous.
And then one dive-bombs the other as they fight over the feeder. Now, that’s not so miraculous. I’ve raised three boys. I’ve seen more fights than most. And yet, I can’t help but laugh. Two beautiful birds fighting like little kids over the plate of chocolate chip cookies. Not even the last cookie. There’s plenty of sugar water in that feeder to last for a week. They just don’t like to share.
But they can travel great distances with those mighty wings and they respond quickly to the changes going on around them. No wonder I’m fascinated. They could teach me a thing or two. Be flexible. Lighten up. Enjoy the sweetness of life. And whenever I’m finally able to master those lessons, I promise I’ll share. But you probably have enough on your plate already.
To write like Ann Patchett, that’s the Holy Grail. She has attained the glory of writing successfully in both fiction and nonfiction and has the awards to prove it. Though I don’t write for awards, (and I’m sure she doesn’t either,) I do write with the idea that I’ve stumbled upon and tripped over some kernel of truth and there is nothing I’d be happier doing than sharing that little gem with someone else.
Yes, I’m a huge fan of Ann Patchett–Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty will always be among my favorites–but what really motivates me as a writer is the impressive gift she has for writing as if she is your best friend, talking from the heart and giving you her hard-earned truths and observed wisdom about the human spirit. And she wraps it all up in this pretty, but not ostentatious package that you can’t wait to unwrap and unwrap and unwrap. Patchett is a master of colloquial writing that sounds like normal conversation until you read the one line or phrase that makes your heart stop. Oh my! She’s nailed it! The truth that begs to be revealed, but so few people have the ability and language to express it, much less pass it on. What more could a writer aspire to do?
I’ve written a memoir about my marriage and the transformation I resisted and then embraced through the ups and downs of that experience, but I was having trouble with one aspect of the memoir that seemed small, yet was really the crux of the entire manuscript. Then I read Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and there it was. The one sentence I’d been trying to write, yet couldn’t seem to convey as accurately and truthfully as I wanted. Oh my! She nailed it. Thank you, Ms. Patchett, for writing with such truth and beauty and for inspiring writers like me to keep hammering away at our own truths until we nail it.