The Practice of Writing (and Writing, and Writing)

June 18, 2018 § 12 Comments

IMG_4171By Maddie Lock

Three years ago I fell in love with Rebecca Solnit. It was at the start of my re-decision to become a writer. A bibliophile with a BA in English and high hopes to make my mark as a writer, I had allowed myself, many years ago, to be distracted by the business world. As I reached a definitive age and had acquired all the things that society says you need in life— a career, family, home, things to fill the home, a second home, vacations, and so on—I woke up one morning and said “enough.” Actually, it was “ENOUGH!”

Let me tell you, it shook life up; my marriage, my business, my circle of friends all had to come second for now. I sat down to write, allowing the strained and shaken pieces of my life to settle in.

I began with a children’s book about a dog who wants love and understanding. I self-published and won a small award. Encouraged, I wrote a few fiction stories which didn’t excite me or anyone else. Then, a friend gave me a book, a memoir, that in my brain begat fireworks. Now dog-eared, filled with yellow highlights and notations, spine struggling to hang on to worn-out pages, I keep it close to me as a talisman when I write.

The Faraway Nearby was a revelation to me. It fired receptors of desire and weepiness no other book had ever done. I wanted to write like this! When I finished the book, I immediately read it again. And again. And began my first essay.

It was about a trip I had taken recently, a solitary two weeks, off-season, on Monhegan Island, isolated from people but enfolded by nature. Into the essay I poured the story of my life changes and conflicts that had sent me away, of my husband’s confusion at the changes in me, the pulling away from the business I had worked so hard to build, the practice of meditation and study of Buddhism, and, mostly, my desire to be alone. It was a masterpiece in the Solnit style: meandering, contemplative, exploring the intricacies of life, revealing bruises and broken parts, threads reaching out and over and beyond, only to meet up again for a new revelation. I couldn’t wait to send it out for publication.

I googled the top nonfiction journals and, since I knew it would be snatched up immediately, I chose just one to submit to. I received a form rejection via email—about two weeks later. Shocked, I tried another top publication; another quick rejection.

I was devastated. I stuck my 5,500-word masterpiece into My Documents and simmered. I began my second children’s book. Every few weeks I picked up The Faraway Nearby, opened it randomly to read a few pages before my eyesight became bleary from tears and I tucked it away again.

I signed up for an online writing class: Writing the Personal Essay. Once again, convinced of accolades, I submitted “Sojourn in Solitude” as my first project. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I envisioned a stunned and ecstatic review from my teacher. With a flushed face I opened up the highly-anticipated critique, and…cried. Honestly, I did.  Although carefully worded, the message was clear: boy, do you have a long way to go. It also told me there was potential.

As with any skill, to be good requires hours and hours—10,000, it is said by many—to become a master at anything. So I began writing. And writing. And I’m still writing, because, according to the statistics, I’m looking at seven years at four hours a day before I can clearly see what my skills are.

I have this fluttery feeling I’ll still not be writing like Solnit; her meandering and my meandering share a big difference: her brilliant mind knows where the maze is taking her and can illuminate the path, whereas my only-adequate mind stumbles around, relying on hope and determination to find snatches of brilliance. An online teacher gently suggested a sizable gap between my writing skills and my reading tastes.

In the worn-out copy of Solnit’s beautiful book is a torn-out inside flap from a paperback copy of Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist. I use it as a bookmark. At the top is a quote: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” I use this as encouragement.

And I’ll keep on writing, tallying my hours. I’ll call it practice.

German born and American bred, Maddie Lock fell in love with words as she learned the English language. Now a semi-retired business partner, she is putting her BA in English to good use. Lock has published an award-winning children’s book, has essays published in Gravel and Narrative Map, lamented about her writing obsession on Brevity Blog, and is working ardently on a memoir about her scattered roots.

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§ 12 Responses to The Practice of Writing (and Writing, and Writing)

  • Thanks for a great post. A colleague gave me a copy of The Alchemist in 1994 and that’s what inspired me to write. I realized that was the path I was trying to find, despite my MBA and years in corporate business. I’ve taken those online courses, too, and earned an MFA only to find, like you, I have a long way to go. Keep at it, Maddie – you’re doing great!

  • […] via The Practice of Writing (and Writing, and Writing) […]

  • Suyog Ketkar says:

    Your thoughts echo mine.

  • You make me want to dig out Solnit’s book and begin again. And now, to get my butt back in the chair, today, tomorrow, and the day after. Onward! From one scattered roots warrior to another.

  • Thank you for the reminder. Though I had always written, I began writing seriously in 1990. I thought by my age now that I would be about done. Instead, I am still beginning.

  • kjboldon says:

    Thanks for this post. I too am a writer who got sidetracked by working in the business world, and am coming to serious practice later in life.

    The advice of your teacher reminds me of the Ira Glass advice to new creators–that their taste is good and not to give up but keep practicing:

  • Love love love your honesty
    You should write more about this, I’d read a whole book of your failures.

    Until you are really in writing it’s impossible to know how arduous the journey is but you understand how much you love it when you keep going anyway.

  • Ginny Boudreau says:

    This piece truly moved and inspired me. Your sincerity and courage shine bright and help light the way for those of us who’ve also chosen this path. I’ll watch for your book and know it will be amazing. Thank you!

  • I thought this was an excellent piece. I am impressed by you as a writer, and I encourage you to continue your journey. However, as a writer, I have to add this comment. IMHO it is a serious mistake not to consider writing as a business. I have neither written a book nor published one; however, I make a good living as a writer. I write sales copy for junk mail. There exists a handful of writer’s paid several thousands of dollars a page for junk mail copy (I am hardly in that class, but I do well enough). With the amount of copy that you have created, have you considered shopping portions of it to inclusion in magazines, both print and ezines? Have you formatted your material for kindle, and published on kindle? I believe that it is still free: I think that Scrivener is software that will convert your text to electronic format. You could also practice your writing and earn money by writing content for web sites.

  • lgood67334 says:

    Important concepts here. Thanks for sharing so honestly!

  • Maddie Lock says:

    I’m thrilled that this piece can be even a wee bit inspirational. Oh yes, the grueling world of business was a cake walk to this “hobby” of writing! Thanks for your comments, all; they are an inspiration to me.

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