Ann Lamott: In a very important way, writing gets easier, because I've been doing it full time now for thirty-plus years, and just as you would get better and better if you practiced your scales on a piano, I've gotten better, and can try harder and harder pieces.I’ve always written. I thought I could be a writer some day … But then when the opportunities showed up, I procrastinated until the opportunity went away. I was too afraid to find out that I couldn’t really write. Because then what would I be?
But writing is always hard. It does not come naturally to me at all. I sit down at the same time every day, which lets my subconscious realize it's time to get to work. I give myself very short assignments, and let myself write really terrible first drafts. But I grapple with the exact same problems every writer does, which is having equal proportions of self-loathing and grandiosity.
I sort of live by the Nike ads: Just Do It. So I sit down. I show up. I do it by pre-arrangement with myself, because I know I'll feel sad and terrible if I shirk on that days writing. I do it as a debt of honor, to myself, and to whatever it is that has given me this gift of being able to tell stories, and to make people laugh. Laughter is carbonated holiness. Other people's good writing is medicine for me, and I hope mine is too, for my readers.
A few years ago when God torched my life, something snapped. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and could not stop writing. I wrote to get the pain out, get the story out, get the truth out. I wrote to stay sane. Most all I wrote because I could no longer NOT write.
Once I started to write for its own sake, I started to like writing. I got to that place of, ‘even if I never get paid for this, I’m still a writer. So, write.
Over a year ago I published online for fun and for free, a story on a website called Infuze Magazine. It was called “Rejected by eHarmony!” It detailed all the frustrations I encountered in online dating. Including being rejected by eHarmony three times.
A while later I got an email from this editor at a big publishing house. The gist was: she read the eHarmony piece, found my blog. “Have you ever considered publishing?”
I wanted to respond, “Do you mean, ‘have I considered it yet today?’ It’s only 8:30 am.”
Well she had contacted me right when Larry and I got engaged. Needless to say I got sidetracked. But eventually I got a proposal to her, based on a lot of that gut wrenching stuff I had written when God torched my life. I called it “Angry Conversations With God.”
When you’ve been in a career filled with near misses, where all the control is with some one else out there, you learn to develop a tough skin. Meaning, you talk yourself out of hoping.
But a couple weeks ago I heard from the editor. It passed muster in Nashville, and then New York staff approved it. Her publishing house was offering me a book deal.
I kinda blanked when I heard the voice mail. Wait. What? Oh. Oh WOW!
Not so Out Of The Blue
You hear these stories of people being plucked from obscurity, usually gorgeous young chicks who got discovered at a used car lot and went on to star in a hit TV show and cut a record album. Then went into rehab and is now working at an insurance company. That was never me.
I’ve realized is that it happened just in the course of doing what I needed to be doing all along. Incremental steps, not one big giant step. Gigs here, articles there. Bigger articles, bigger gigs. Money for work. Through that I got over my procrastination and just wrote.
Mostly I gained a sense of Inevitability. This will happen. It will get done. With God’s grace, friends’ support, and my commitment to the process of just doing what I know I am supposed to do. I have no idea if it will be a success. I have no control over who decides to buy it, who’s going to like it. But I have control over writing it. And I have that sense of inevitability about it. It will happen, because it’s what I’m supposed to do.
This morning, our friend Anna Waterhouse sent me the Ann Lamott quote above. As I was printing it out I found a fortune I had received in a fortune cookie years ago.
PS ... since this post I've done live readings of some of the chapters. You can watch them on my website.