My writing friend Michelle Simkins invited me to participate in her latest brainchild, The Summer of Bloggerly Love, in which guest posts are exchanged between bloggers. Michelle had a specific theme in mind when she created the exchange so today you will find my “love” post over at Michelle’s Greenwoman blog. As Wednesdays on Creative Procrastination are typically Wordless Wednesdays, I told Michelle she could write about anything her heart desired. So here’s to a Not-So-Wordless Wednesday. Thanks Michelle! Enjoy!
Filling the Well
by Michelle Simkins
Several years ago, I quit my day job because I hated it. I thought, at the time, that I’d eventually find another day job, but that didn’t end up happening. Once I started writing again, I was really, really happy that I didn’t have to “go to work” anymore, and I said “ALL I WANT TO DO IS WRITE! But I will clean and cook and garden, because that’s the right thing to do.”
Those of you who have a day job are probably saying “I’d kill to be in your shoes. I wouldn’t do anything except sleep, eat, and write.” Some of you might add “drink and have sex” to that list.
But I bet you my copy of Garden Spells that’s not true. Or it wouldn’t be true for long. Because my friends, if I learned anything from my artistic recovery process, it’s that you have to fill the well.
As it turns out, writing isn’t all I want to do. It’s what I want to do most, definitely. But it’s not enough.
Every amateur author interview on the planet has the same question: “Where do you get your ideas.” Very few authors answer “From my own writing.”
To write, we have to be engaged in life. What makes a beautiful story–no matter the genre–is the way the story lifts out of the book and becomes a living, breathing world, so real we feel we could walk through it, taste the coffee, touch the peeling paint on the porch railing, get weak in the knees from that kiss. You don’t attain that level of sensory richness by spending every moment in front of a computer. You have to walk outside yourself to get there. If you don’t, the story remains print on a page, and is relegated forever to the B list. Or disappears entirely.
I will hold out an example. One of my favorite authors of all time is Robin McKinley. Her books draw me in and pierce my heart, twist my guts, make me cry and laugh and swoon. I have to re-read them frequently because I can’t stand saying goodbye to the characters. They are rich and alive. After I read one of her books, I sometimes dream of living inside the story. Have you read her blog? She doesn’t talk a lot about writing. She talks a lot about handbells, voice lessons, dog walking, gardening, owning two houses. She is up to her ears in life. And it shines through her writing.
Katherine Paterson has been quoted as saying “If we marvel at the artist who has written a great book, we must marvel more at those people whose lives are works of art and who don’t even know it, who wouldn’t believe it if they were told. However hard work good writing may be, it is easier than good living.”
I think this is true. I also think that good living feeds good writing more effectively than anything else does.
I don’t report to anyone but myself these days. And I’m pretty sure I could get away with “just” writing and taking care of the house. But I think my writing would dry up. And I’m grateful for my full plate. I have an acre of flowers, vegetables, and herbs to tend. I run an Etsy shop. I cook dinner every night. I attend a meditation circle. I have a husband and stepkids. I volunteer at the library. I knit. And maybe none of those activities helps me tighten up my plot, raise my word count, or get my heroine to reveal her innermost secrets. Maybe none of them will ever find their way into my books. But I persist in their pursuit because I love them, and because they fill the well. And because writing isn’t enough: I want LIFE.
So if you are laboring away on your life’s work, remember to pay attention and ask yourself periodically if you actually have a life. If you don’t? Maybe step away from the manuscript for a few hours. Go for a walk, eat a new food, watch a movie, go dancing. I promise the words will still be there when you get back.
Michelle Simkins is a writer, knitter, gardener, and radical homemaker. She shares a tumbledown acre in Oregon with her partner and stepchildren, three neurotic cats and a whole pile of ornery chickens. Visit Greenwoman to read more from Michelle.