Writer, train thyself

Ever forget how to tie your shoes? Like, actually forgotten? Looked down at your shoes, laces in your hands, knowing full well you’ve done it so many thousands of times in your life that it’s nearly as automatic as breathing, and for some reason, this time, you physically cannot do it? Can’t even fathom how these floppy pieces of fabric  mesh together into a security system for your feet?

I mean, not that that’s ever happened to me, of course. But in theory. *ahem*

The other day, I realized I’ve forgotten how to tie my writing shoes.

Since 2012, I’ve written and published one novella, four novels, two short stories, twenty-four flash pieces, and hundreds of blog posts. I’ve sat on four convention panels about storytelling and craft. I’ve helped seasoned authors write their own books, poetry, stories, and essays. I’ve encouraged aspirational authors to do the thing on the strength of my own authority.

You’d think I’d know what I’m doing by now.

And yet, one day I was staring up at the bookshelf where I keep my author’s copies and thought, “I don’t know how to write a book.” It wasn’t negative self-talk or impostor syndrome. I simply couldn’t understand the process even as I pored through memories of doing it. Expanding the scope didn’t help: short stories and blog posts seemed equally impossible. My ability to craft a narrative of any kind was suddenly as laughable as me completing an Ironman triathalon. What had been as natural as breathing was now a complete mystery.

Talk about discouraging.

I think that’s what made it easy (easier) to tear it all down. If I couldn’t write anymore, why perpetuate the illusion that I could? But even after all the books were removed from circulation and all the blog posts deleted, the creative ember still burned. The desire to write didn’t go away.

I railed at God a little, then. Why would you nag me for two years to set all the old work aside as if I’d never done it and not give me something to replace it? Why are you leaving me empty-handed and rudderless? Why give me this gift and deny me the ability to use it?

Once I’d exhausted my resentment, I huffed and asked for the one thing that didn’t make me sound like a petulant child who’s had her toys taken away.

If you want me to be a different writer, then you have to teach me. Help me relearn how to write.

Trawling Instagram a couple hours later, I came across Compel, a writer’s community and training program run by and for Christian women. I combed through the site with increasing excitement. A lively forum, weekly teachings on craft and creativity, spiritual foundations. Registration was closed, but man, did it sound just like what I’d asked for. I signed up to be notified of their next intake and set it aside.

The next day, registration opened.

When the student is ready, etc, etc.

It’s only been three weeks and a handful of lessons (babytime is still a hurdle), but I can already feel the difference. I have direction. I want to write and do what I can, without expectation. It’s an odd feeling to not be driven to achieve or even create great things, which was my overarching drive before. For now, I’m deeply satisfied being a student of my craft. To be a beginner again, mind and heart open, feeling my way along.

The real challenge is not letting my old self rear up to ruin it by spewing pride all over the place. It’s offended that I’m submitting to Writing 101 after five years of (varying levels of) success. I had to verbally check myself when I considered skipping a lesson on sentence structure because “I know all this already”; sticking it out led me to read “A Wagner Matinee” by Willa Cather and to all its variations, which provided not just reader-joy at the loveliness of the prose but also writer-joy to see how a master refined her work over time. There is always more to learn. And if I want to step into my calling to write, to follow my path to its greatest destination, I absolutely have to maintain beginner’s mind, even while gaining skill and authority.

Last night, the first story idea came. Then another. And a third. Then a reminder of other ideas, tucked away over the years in phone notes or post-its crammed into an unmarked envelope. They’re there. Waiting.

It’s early days yet, but if I take it slow I can tie my shoes again.

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