Beware the Laundry: A Guide to Writing & Relationships
“I sure need encouragement to write. Help.”
A dear friend recently wrote this to me, adding, “I hope you can shed some light on how I can get started.” So I thought I’d, you know, write an answer. And I thought I’d publish it here because writing is about relationship.
Writing is an interplay between what’s in your mind and what’s on the page, between the stories you tell and the stories you live. And so it’s no surprise that the most helpful things I know about writing also apply to forging strong connections.
First, make sure writing (or strengthening a relationship) is what you really want. Decide for yourself.
If you do want to write or grow your relationships, count on resistance. That’s what I call the voice in my head that doesn’t want me to take risks (thank you, Steven Pressfield). It helps to name this voice — it makes it less scary.
In case you’re not familiar with it, resistance starts up when you’re about to do something important, something that breaks your usual mold. It begins as you set yourself a writing assignment and type the first faltering sentences. It says:
This is ridiculous. Nothing I write is remotely interesting. I bet great writers don’t flounder like this. It’s probably hopeless. I should be doing something more sensible, like cleaning the bathroom.
I call that last line the lure of the sensible, and it’s a powerful snare. Author Julia Cameron calls it the virtue trap, which is apt. What does that mean? It means checking off every item on the list except what’s most important to your spirit.
It’s easy to act like writing and nurturing our relationships are insane, impractical, and selfish … when in fact these may be the most sane, practical, loving things we do all day.
Of course, common sense applies (yes, do your taxes). But beware the tasks that can wait! Beware the laundry! If you’re like me, you are never so interested in chores as when you want to avoid the vulnerability that comes with writing (or truly connecting with another person).
So, don’t tempt yourself. If you want to have a good in-person conversation, put away your phone. And if you want to write, go to the library; it’s free, neat, and full of books to read when you’re done.
Speaking of which: Never underestimate the power of a good incentive. I’m a professional writer who has wanted to ‘make books’ since age 6, and there are plenty of days when I can only get started if I bribe myself to do so.
Next, be consistent. Set a writing routine, and make it very easy. Do less than you’re capable of, so you’ll stick with it. Same goes for relationships: set the bar low and commit. Long catch-up calls with faraway friends are good, but you know what’s easier and more realistic? Shorter, slightly more frequent calls, which prevent the dance of disconnection.
I write every day (with few exceptions for illness or vacation). If you’re not writing, this is the first thing I’d suggest. Set a relatively easy quota; the key is consistency. Do a little bit daily, and it adds up. FAST.
Plus, doing the work boots your self-respect. When you fulfill your commitment, you can say, I did it! Or, as Anne Lamott likes to say, I am princess of all the earth!
Finally, write what wants to be written. Get quiet. Let your mind wander, and stay in the chair until something occurs to you. Will it be good? Maybe not. But it will help you start, and the importance of starting cannot be underestimated. As you continue, you may realize that you’d like to go in a different direction. That’s okay; it means you’re listening.
A reader recently quoted Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, which reminded me of Palmer’s admonition:
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”
What you hear may take you by surprise. In fact, if you’re willing to tune in, your writing (and your life, for that matter) won’t be anything like what you planned.
Instead, it will be better.
For more inspiration to write, check out Scott Lentine’s poetry; he writes about life on the autism spectrum with courage and candor. Scott emailed me his poems just as I was finishing this post. Coincidence? I think not.
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About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.