For me, writing is many things. It is an outlet. It is an art. It is an ambition. Writing can be a journey. A meditation. Sometimes even a battle. But of the many things that it can be, by far the worst is this: writing is a chore. That is to say, it is a thing to be done on a regular and ritualistic basis. It takes practice! Ah, yes. Practice. That most charming of activities. That most desirable part of any talent. Practice.
You might say it is like tending a fire, which includes finding the wood so that you can build the fire which you will later need to tend. Maybe you try a couple different types of wood before you get the one that burns the brightest. Cedar? Mesquite? Ash? Chopping down that wood, maybe you throw out your back in the process. Maybe you accidently bury an axe in your chin bone. Who knows? Chopping down trees is dangerous. Then you collect said wood, and, after trimming it all to the appropriate length you stack it into a neat little pile. Then you wait. Yes, it’s even best to wait, wait for that wood to dry. To “ripen” to “mature,” if you will, so that when you toss it into the fire, it will burn rather than smolder. Then you spend days and days staring at your woodpile. Rearranging it. Adding new wood. Second guessing the way you trimmed it. Looking at your neighbors pile of extra-burnably-dry wood with envy. Covering it up when it rains. Then, shit, you forget to cover it when it rains which further extends the drying period. I’ll tell you, waiting is god damn exhausting! There’s that phrase, like watching paint dry. Yea, try watching wood dry. So, at risk of over-extending the “tending a fire” metaphor, I will stop there. But you get the idea.
Writing is a lengthy, often tedious and vulnerable process. So I find myself, you know, avoiding it. Of course, I avoid it. Why wouldn’t I avoid it? I don’t have a very big community of writers in my life yet, but I know enough to know what “practice” means. Practice means drafts. Drafts mean editing. Editing means ideas that you have to throw away like bad food. Ideas that might seem promising. Or interesting. Or funny — that you or some other person looks at and goes “Nope! No good.” And chucks it in the trash. Bearing your soul to tell a story only to have an outsider deem it unworthy. No one gluts for punishment more than writers.
Sometimes I run to avoid writing. No metaphor, I literally put paces between the paper and me. I run away from my computer or, if I’m feeling positive that day, maybe I run toward an idea. I pound the proverbial pavement and retreat into my thoughts. Or away from them. Either way I forget them because I am distracted by an unleashed dog. It charges over to me like an angry middle-aged white woman. Put that dog on a leash! I think, like the middle-aged white woman that I am and then spend the next hundred yards annoyed by the entitlement of some people. He’s a good dog, they apologize like that justifies their blatant disregard for anyone else in the park. You know, I read somewhere that 1 in 20 people have a paralyzing fear of dogs. I’ve definitely passed more than 20 people on this trail so odds are that this “good dog” will terrorize at least one person today. I think there might be something there…some poem or maybe a short story…? No?…Nothing. My ideas fall like crumbs along the trail. They fatten the birds. I leave the park with a good sweat, slightly sore legs and a jumble of half-forgotten essays in my head.
Sometimes I cook to avoid writing. Cooking is an easy excuse for me because I have children and children got to eat. And eat. And eat. I try to be productive by listening to an audiobook while I cook. Writers must read (they say) like children must eat. Or I listen to a podcast, thinking it might inspire something. Sometimes it does. But I can’t sit down and write because the sauce will burn. The carrots aren’t going to chop themselves. I especially enjoy baking bread. The simple ingredients. The rising. The pounding. Or deflating. The kneading. It’s all very poetic. (It is, in fact, possibly a more perfect metaphor for writing than fire building. But I’m committed to the fire metaphor for now.) And in bread baking, there is a lot of down-time. Between the fermentation and the proofing and the baking. (Dammit, it IS a better metaphor.) I could sit down and write during several parts of the bread baking process. But instead, I sweep. I sweep the flour from the floor and pretend poems also rise if you leave them in a warm room covered by a thin towel.
Sometimes I drink. A favorite avoidance technique, I’ll admit. I call my friends while I’m sitting on my blurry patio. We ramble: laughing and crying. We catch-up on all the things. The very important things that require multiple trips back to the kitchen for a refill. On a good night, I might try to fumble out a few notes on my phone. If my fingers no longer are cooperating, I’ll just make a recording. (Exceptionally fun to listen back to these beauties!) Cheers to my intoxicated ideas which I think sound really great, even despite the 3 glasses…4 glasses of wine I’ve had.
My phone is full of half-hearted soggy attempts to slop out a story. It’s disturbing. And tragic. And kind of adorable too. That’s like, oh damn….is this another metaphor for writing?? Did I do another metaphor for writing? Writing is like making a drink. Really? 1 ounce tragedy, 2 ounces vodka?? And a splash of LAME! (I clearly need more practice. (Or maybe I’m a genius.) (No, more practice.))
Here is a list of all the ways to avoid writing that are also metaphors for writing:
(I’ll list them, but I’m not doing the work of explaining how they are metaphors. You can do that part. I’ve already over-explained my way through 3 decent writing metaphors. Your turn. I believe in you! To help you out though, I will add the words “Writing is” for each.)
Writing is mowing the lawn.
Writing is changing the oil.
Writing is swimming.
Writing is planting a garden.
Writing is dancing and singing.
Writing is laundry.
Writing is cleaning out the closet.
Writing is homework.
Writing is parenting.
Writing is praying.
Jokes and metaphors aside — writing is me. It’s my mind and my heart. It’s my art and my truth.
And the truth is, it is also my fear. The courage it takes for me write doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. There is work involved that is beyond the physical act of writing. THAT is why I find myself avoiding it. But — ironically, that is also what keeps me coming back to it. It is why I find it fascinating and exhilarating and rewarding. It is also why, no matter what I do to avoid it, writing will always be my home — my home with a cozy fire burning brightly on the hearth.