As I go back to my notes from my two weeks at Habla Ya, I see my writing at its most naked–handwritten in pencil with lots of crossing out and writing over–and I really like it. I have always believed in lots of drafts because it takes me so long to find out what it is I want to say. I’m pretty sure my dissertation has at least 5 drafts per chapter, not including the dissertation journal that I kept for writing warmups every day before doing the “real” work. But now that I look back at that writing process, I think the real work was actually in that journal because I didn’t really know what that giant piece was about until I’d written a couple of chapters. And in the writing journal I was free to go wherever I wanted without any preconceived ideas about what it should be or what I should say. The only rule I had was to just keep writing.
Yesterday I had a lovely conversation with my friend Emily about writing and we agreed that one of the wonders of writing is how surprising what comes out of us can be when we follow the simple rule just keep writing (or in my case lately, just keep the pen moving). I’m working on a story as part of a writing experiment–writing part of the story every day for a month then I will type it up and see what I have–and every day when I sit down to write I have no idea what I’m going to say. Sometimes I have a sentence or an image that gets me started, but I never know where it’s going to take me. And I like that because by the time I’ve finished the day’s work on the story I’ve always gone somewhere surprising and exciting. It’s like really good improv–saying yes to the scene as it evolves instead of trying to shape it to some preconceived notion of what will be funny or deep or entertaining. My preconceived notions never seem to be as good as what just comes out as I let the pen in my hand move across the paper–even when I feel like I’m writing myself into a corner, which happens a lot. Because my only rule for this month’s writing experiment is “keep the pen moving,” I often find that there are ways out of those corners that I could never devise if I sat and thought about it. When I just keep the pen moving, it takes me places I didn’t imagine were there. And that’s the beauty of writing. And of really good art in general, isn’t it? It takes us places we didn’t think we could get to but that were there all along.
Kind of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.