Do the Work

I have the tabs open, still, to the lists titled: “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction,” written by a slurry of successful writers for The Guardian’s book section. ( Part One and part two ) The link was going around last week on twitter and like I do with stuff like this where it seems the magic key to my particular lock might be buried on the fifth or fourteenth line, I hurried to read them all. Some of the tips are funny, some meant to be funny, some not funny at all. The one that stayed with me is this single item from Philip Pullman, who says, “My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.” Amidst the lists of 10, 5, 3 things that most of the other writers replied with, it is this guy’s refusal that held my attention.

I have never heard of Philip Pullman. But I like his attitude.

(I hate that this is the Internet and I can write the above sentence, I have never heard of Philip Pullman, and then feel compelled to google his name because in this dayunage there is no reason I should not know who he is. I have heard of him, now, and I should get on with the looking into it. I don’t want to look into it, I just want to keep on going with my life, without getting distracted by the likes of Philip Pullman.)

(Also, I am making granola right now. When the timer goes off the granola will need stirring and I will be done this blog entry so it might not ever re-hitch itself to whatever point I was aiming for.)

It seems like there are two ways to approach writing: one, you write until you’re done. Two: you read / do everything you can to get ready for writing and then you die, having not written anything.

Within “everything” and “nothing” and “done” I, of course, include “revisions” and “editing” and “published.” And the death is not immediate, as though not-writing causes it, but happens on schedule, without you having done a blessed thing toward your goal.

All those successful people sent their contributions, their “horoscopes,” to the Guardian so that other people, people who are thinking about / trying not to think about writing could read them and scan for the magic bullet, the talisman, the something they could take away for security, to help them think they were doing something, anything about their hopes and dreams and goals.

Yesterday we were at my parents house and Trombone didn’t want to leave. He doesn’t nap when we’re there so he gets overexcited and dramatic and the ratio is better there for adult attention on his little boy-self so when it was time to go, he wanted to take something with him. First he went for a box of crackers. When we said no, he moved on to a roll of tape. Twice denied, he settled for an orange from the fruit basket on the back porch.

Trombone doesn’t eat oranges.

He just wanted something in his hand, a tangible reminder of everything that comes with a visit to my parents; love, attention, painting on an easel, getting to stay downstairs while everyone else naps, ‘coffee time’ at 4 pm when my parents drink espresso and everyone gets a special cookie. All of those things are contained in the orange that he carried all the way home in the car, all the way up the stairs, all the way into our house.

Then he gave it to Fresco to eat because Fresco likes oranges.

The danger, for me, is that I take a sentence or an idea or a well-crafted phrase or a pin-sharp point from someone’s list of Important Things To Know About X and I put it in a nice safe place where I can look at it and admire its well-crafted, pin-sharpness and then I don’t do the work. Does this make me lazy, scared, typical, not cut out for the job or some combination of all of those things? Have I passed my love for symbols on to my kids or have I not matured past a 3.5 year old level?

If each of those writers queried had replied, “Just do the work,” full stop, it would not have been such an interesting read. But where I am right now, that is the only thing I need to stick up on my wall. The flowery poems and motivational photos and shrines to creativity are superfluous. I know that my writer’s soul opens like a delicate rose after a rainfall and cannot be crushed by any bulldozers of progress. I know the honeybee is my friend though his drone distracts me. I am well aware of my unique message of –

Do the work.

Is this the work?

No? Then stop doing it.

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