July 6, 2022

Thoughts on Writing

Thoughts on Writing

I love that word, Metacognition. Wikipedia defines it as “an awareness of one's thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them.” In taking a moment to be mindful about my own writing process and patterns, here’s what I discovered:

I love writing in my big book with my big handwriting. Two pages fill fast. Since sketchbooks are unlined, my handwriting tends to slope to the right as I move down the page. I used to hate my handwriting. It felt cramped and forced, just like having to learn cursive when we moved to tiny Luxembourg when I was seven. Later, when I went to boarding school in Dover, England, I created a secret code to write in my diary, which was mostly about crushes and middle school betrayals. I would get in trouble for my bad handwriting, especially in boarding school, where I was chastised for using a ballpoint pen. Now I see my handwriting as cryptic, magical, and tender, just like my heart. And, you know, witches spell it out.

I went a little crazy right after college, and moved to Idaho, where the rent for the Moravia schoolhouse was a mere $100 a month. I worked one day a week looking after eighty year old Betty Fox, while the rest of the time I worked on myself. Part of my healing was going through the Creative Journal by Lucia Capacchione. This is where I got the idea of starting in the middle of the journal and flipping back and forth with my entries, rather than starting at the beginning and marching through. This was pleasing after reading the French feminist Monique Wittig’s book, Les Guérillères, which is not written in linear time, but circular.

At different times I've had different notebooks - one is called “Love: A Field Notebook.” Then there are Amber's journals, which we kept in the diaper bag since Drama and I stopped talking to each other. We needed to communicate about naps, meals, and small day care events, and they now live in a tupperware box in the Tuff shed. In high school, my art teacher Mr.Bartman required us to fill a small, fat sketchbook with drawings at the end of each semester. I would fill the other half with poems, musings, lyrics, like any other high-schooler. And while this was supposed to be a daily practice, I would cram in a week's worth of drawings while waiting for my dad to pick me up after therapy on Wednesday afternoons.

I've kept various journals and diaries over my lifetime. At some point I burned seventeen volumes, ripping out the few poems I thought worthy. Amber was appalled as she had wanted to read them, but to me they were just a chronicle of pain and grief after the divorce, and I didn’t want her to read all of my scrumbly feelings towards her other parent. But I keep coming back to the big black sketchbooks. The first one spans a good decade, now this latest will be filled by the end of this class.

I use many different pens, but love thin Sharpies the most. They do tend to bleed, so pasting something every other page helps. When learning how to write cursive, we were forced to write in ink, either black, royal blue, or blue-black. I remember the stationary store, with the ultra expensive Cartier pens - the ones you got for graduation - under lock and key. My mom bought me a Happy Pen that was a sunny yellow. Recently one of my clients bought me a set of fountain pens in an array of pastel colors, and there was a certain satisfaction in popping the cartridge in and having the ink begin to flow across the page. 

I never learned to type, I learned to bake. Here I am at fifty-five and still hunt and peck with one finger, but it is fast. At the writer’s retreat I would use my iPad, but felt the tick, tick, tick sound more potentially distracting to my fellow retreatants than the scratching of my pen. Sometimes I dictate, which is great for thought process but editing all the punctuation and things made up by auto-correct is a chore of its own.

I tend to write in sprints, sometimes marathons, rather than a daily jog like Stephan King. Four day writers retreats, six or eight week classes, Write30. I'll do the work, I'll get the juice out of it, but once done I could easily be next engaged in en plein air watercolor or underwater basket weaving for the next few months. Often I'll add artwork after the fact - collages, collected ephemera that used to go into photo albums, but now get scrapped here, print outs of online inspiration, whether poems from Instagram or my own peculiar ramblings.

Usually I write my two pages, the raw stuff, around nine or ten in the morning, after I’ve finished my various crossword puzzles. Sometimes I write outside at the teak table under the Wisteria, or in my car before class, almost always afterwards when I take myself out to lunch at Burger and have my little cup of carbs -mac and cheese with bacon on top.

Right now I’m sitting in the backroom with both the black cat and the calico vying for space next to me, sketchbook cradled between my left arm and a pillow on my lap, as I baby the words forth. There’s the smell of ginger lemon tea and the occasional croak of crows or thrums of hummers. I used to time myself, but I tend to space out while writing, so two pages a day is reasonable. At some point in the week, usually if my husband is gone, I’ll dictate pieces into my phone and email them to myself for online editing. Depending on my schedule, I’ll spend some time polishing, editing, embellishing these nuggets, usually in secret pockets of time found when waiting for clients, waiting for my friend to arrive, or waiting for pasta to boil.