“…so I start to write about her and this new version of myself I’m working to understand.” – Nicole Gulotta in Wild Words
In a cafe on an early summer morning. A plate of bacon, hash browns, and scrambled eggs for me; a sweet potato hash for Jesse. A mug of coffee (black) for me; a pot of tea (Irish Breakfast) for him. We’ve come here weekly, Jesse and I. Each Friday while the girls are still asleep, we have an early morning breakfast date. This morning, I have a filled notebook with brainstorms, lists, ideas, color-coded plans and schedules—I even have a budget—for working for myself. Unshowered, in workout clothes and a baseball cap, I talk to my husband—a guy I’ve known since I was 19—as though I’m leading a meeting.
“I think I can do this,” I tell him and point to the writing workshops I have planned, freelance gigs I have lined up, potential books I would write.
“I think I’m ready to give it a shot,” I say.
Jesse sips his tea, and nods his head. “Ok,” he says. “Give it a shot.”
I shake more hot sauce on my eggs, then pick up my fork to eat.
“OK,” I say, before taking a bite.
At a bonfire on Friday night, I am talking with friends. It is a night with the sort of weather that wants to begin a new story as evidenced from the harvest moon, the plaid scarves and mugs of hot cider, the kids playing “Ghost in the Graveyard” instead of swimming in the pool nearby.
A woman who I’m friendly with but I’m not sure I’d call a friend walks up to me and I smile, then look at my boots. Something about her makes me feel examined, and because of that I’m guarded.
“So, Callie,” she begins and I look back up. “Yeah?” I say.
“Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been using the library,” she tells me.
She’s referring to the library where I used to work, the library where I found the wild things again and danced and danced with them. I didn’t want to leave that library, but the only way I could stay was if I worked in two libraries, something I’d been doing for a few years that had left me feeling stretched thin. It was a painful choice to make.
“It’s a great space,” she said and continued to tell me about all the nooks and crannies as though she were describing what was inside my heart.
I was reading Wild Words at the time, a chapter on the season of doubt. I’d walked away from the library and walked toward writing full time, but got scared and took a part-time literacy job, the filled pages of my notebook I’d shown to Jesse forgotten. The job I took was good, even important. It was a job that allowed me to write, but it was also a job that reminded me of who I used to be and left me feeling like a shadow of myself.
In “The Season of Doubt,” Nicole quotes the poet David Whyte. “When we are humiliated, we are in effect returning to the ground of our being.”
I am sure this woman didn’t mean to humiliate me, but something about the poet’s words here were comforting to me, and I was grateful Nicole shared them. I was glad to cloak them around myself in this new season.
That night, as the fire died down and people started for home, I wondered: What is it I want to return to?
I am feeling caged, impatient, disappointed. I don’t believe I have time for anything. I don’t know how to move forward, or even what it is I want to move forward to. I let my dream go because I was too afraid to hold on to it, and now I don’t know how to get it back. Or even if I want to.
I suppose it sounds like a dramatic pivot, but it’s at this point point Nicole reminds me to get out the cookie sheets.
In a section discussing how to find and use the margins in our day, she writes, “Seize opportunities to write, even in strange places and for the briefest of moments. One afternoon I was baking brownies and had to put the pan back in the oven for three more minutes so the center would set. I returned to my computer and wrote until the timer went off.”
I took two sticks of butter from the fridge and wrote while I waited for them to soften. I decided roasted walnuts would taste great in the chocolate chip cookies I was making. I wrote for a few more minutes until I smelled their toasty sweet fragrance coming from the oven.
And I wrote while the the cookies baked to a golden brown, their chocolate chips melted smooth and mixing with the brown sugar, vanilla, and just a dash of cinnamon.
I had no plan to use a word to guide my year. I liked the idea of the popular exercise, but no word ever jumped out at me. Then, on this early and cold and not yet born winter morning, I am reading poetry and maybe an icicle will fall and crash to the ground, but that’s what it feels like when the word “dare” comes walking through the front door and sits across from me at the table.
It is less than 24 hours before the world as we know it changes forever, and I am in a neighborhood bar with my friend Jaime. We know things are changing fast, and we have an idea of the severity of the situation, but our lively storytelling as we share a plate of french fries suggests that we are thinking this is going to be a fun adventure rather than a dystopian novel come to life.
“I could have three full weeks off of work,” I say and Jaime raises a glass.
“And what will you do?” Jaime asks.
I pull apart a french fry.
“What would you do if you didn’t have to go back at all?” Jaime asks.
I pop the pieces of the fry in my mouth and chew.
“You cannot apply for any teaching jobs right now. Teaching is literally off the table.” Jaime puts her elbows on the table and cups her chin in her hands. For the third time she asks me what I’m going to do.
“OK,” Jaime says and pulls a quarter from her pocket. “Heads you tell me everything—all your wild writing dreams—and you use this time to try again. Tails, we finish these fries, and go home.”
“I’m not ready to go home,” I say.
Jaime flips the coin. It lands on the floor, under the table where we are sitting. We scootch our chairs back and lower ourselves to the bar’s floor that smells like bleach and beer and fried food and Saturday nights.
Between us sits George Washington’s profile.
1. I think it’s important to note that in Wild Words , Nicole Gulotta places “The Season of Doubt,” right after “The Season of Beginning.” While it’s not a hard and fast rule, I think that with every beginning comes doubt. What will we write about? How do we find time to write? What about when we have loads of time to write, and the words won’t come? I have been calling myself a writer for over a decade, and it seems like every time I’m on the verge of beginning, or even when I have begun, doubt is sandwiched between the excitement and joy and exploration of bringing everything I have to the page. I think Nicole’s suggestion to write five different ways to begin is an encouraging practice to show that there are a multitude of ways to begin. And begin again. In the comments, write one (or five) of your beginnings into your writing journey.
2. Where are your margins for writing? Do you carry a small notebook with you and jot down ideas as they come? Do you write while cookies bake? Do you find time in the early morning or late at night to pursue your stories? In the comments, share where you have found your margins.
3. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Nicole writes that one way to “remedy this [season of doubt] is by rewriting the myths we tell ourselves.” What myths can you re-write? What myths have you rewritten?
4. What fears can you name as they pertain to writing? How can you be as gentle as possible with them? I tend to invite them into my writing room because I’ve found they won’t leave no matter how hard I try. I think they want to be heard, so am always listening, but I also try to see what else is there besides my fear.
Editor’s note: Join us this month as Callie Feyen leads a book club discussion of Nicole Gulotta’s Wild Words: Rituals, Routines and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path. We’re reading on the following schedule:
Photo by winhide, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Callie Feyen.
A Writer’s Dream Book
“Callie Feyen has such a knack for telling personal stories that transcend her own life. In my years in publishing, I’ve seen how hard that is—but she makes it seem effortless, and her book is such a pleasure. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s enlightening. Callie writes about two of the most important things in life—books and clothes—in utterly delightful and truly moving ways. I’m impressed by how non-gimmicky and fresh her writing is. I love this book.”
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Michelle Anne Ortega says
Good morning! I don’t see any other discussion here, so please redirect me if I’m posting in the wrong place.
For this season, I am very satisfied with where my writing life is at. Some things that helped me get here include:
1. Workshops. For a few years I attended TSP and other local workshops, and fortunately found my way into a supportive writing community, where I also gained instruction and insight on writing skills. I hadn’t had any writing guidance since high school, and most of my writing, when I started after a 20-year hiatus, was diagnostic and progress updates for my patients. I developed a stringent, clear, “just-the-facts, ma’am” style that felt constipated to me when I tried to write creatively.
2. Further into the journey, I was perpetually stumped by jumping into the hardest parts of my life first, and writing a memoir. No matter the support, I could not write it. I set it aside for a year, and it turns out, those bits and pieces were meant to be borne as poems and imagery, instead of straight narrative.
3. I don’t stress about setting a time to write every day, for two reasons. First, my daily schedule fluctuates too frequently to try to pin the best time down. More importantly, I am a ruminator, so I have an idea spinning in the back of my head for a while before I put it to paper. The poem usually comes out in a “dump” and needs a few edits. I do used the Notes program on my phone to dictate and collect thoughts and phrases throughout the week (they tend to emerge when I am driving). Then, at least once a week, I type all of the notes from my phone and on any scrap paper I’ve collected into Google docs, and rough out as many poems skeletons I find.
Megan Willome says
I like the idea of poem skeletons, Michelle.
Michelle Anne Ortega says
Thanks, Megan. 🙂
Callie Feyen says
Your response to #2 really resonates with me. I often can’t understand why a story keeps following me around when it just seems too big to put it into narrative form. And this probably sounds weird, but I often think, “Well, if you’re following me around, you must want to be told somehow. What do you need from me?” Often, it is a metaphor and an image, and that is how it starts.
Michelle Anne Ortega says
Yes, Callie, totally! The story has a disembodied life of its own. And in the case of my memoir, the “right” question was finally “What do I need from you (me to the story)?”
Going through the structure and arc of the memoir, I reframed so much of my own story and internal scripts. That perspective was crucial to uncovering my authentic voice, and slowly, the bits that needed to be told found their way to the paper.
Nicole Gulotta says
Hi Michelle, I love how after the time away, you were able to reimagine your work in a new format. A reflective period is always so essential! Such a beautiful reminder to let things simmer, and to trust the creative process.
L.L. Barkat says
Callie, this was such a wonderful way “in” to Nicole’s book. I love the progression from 1-5. How you think, and think, and think again. Really, that might be the key to success in any endeavor, especially since, as Michelle notes, life continues to alter.
The other day I had a conversation with my older daughter, and I asked her, “Do you think I’m betting on the wrong future?” Meaning, betting that I can make T. S. Poetry Press succeed at the level that it will be able to support us.
She said, “You love drama.”
“What? Why is that drama? I don’t mean it to be drama.”
“But it’s drama,” she said. “Because there’s no single bet you are making. It’s a series of bets. And within each of those are a lot of decisions. You need to think of it that way instead.”
Of course she is right. Maybe we lay our dreams out on the table and feel it’s an all-or-nothing proposition right then and there (like how you said you were ready to give it a shot). But life is more usually a twisty-turny thing. I do think that’s true especially for a writer. We keep writing. The more prolific we are, the more likely we will meet with success. And that prolific-ness can happen in the margins or in a full-time situation. Either way, though, it’s the prolific-ness that counts. And that? You, Callie Feyen, have it in spades. 🙂
Sandra Heska King says
Your older daughter is so wise.
I’m also chuckling cuz on my bulletin board I’ve tacked a note to myself:
“Archive the drama.
Unearth the dream.”
(You know where that came from.)
Maybe some dreams can’t come true without a little drama.
Callie Feyen says
Oh, I really like this idea of drama, and thinking that this is a series of bets. Indeed. And no matter how twisty-turny my life becomes, I keep writing. That has been the constant.
And thank you for your kind words. That means a lot.
This was fun to write. It helped me see how many beginnings there are to have in the story I’m living.
Michelle Anne Ortega says
I agree with the elder-daughter too! It’s a continual shaping-reshaping-pruning-supporting-forcing a bloom when you are creating what you are. With my business, the core has remained the same, as has the vision, but the practice itself has shape-shifted many times and in many ways over the years. So much trial and error. Letting go of what’s not working for me, trusting my vision and heart to open a space for something new to bloom. Eyes open and on the ready when something new comes my way. A creative mothering to the vision.
Sandra Heska King says
When I think about beginnings in my writing journey as a whole, it involves a burn barrel–a beginning I’ve been encouraged to forget. Except I want to keep remembering because it reminds me that since then physical burn barrels have been nonexistent.
My current project has taken way longer than I estimated. I’ve struggled with believing I’m qualified to write it. Then I stalled because of some family drama (a couple of weddings and an accident) and then the holidays and then some other stuff. I kept meaning to get back to it. Kept churning ideas, taking notes, doing more research.” But rewriting in my head, so there’s that.
Also there’s some fear of what happens when it’s done and how will it *really* be any good, and how will I promote it and will I be able to actually talk about it coherently.
I’m totally loving this book.
Callie Feyen says
Indeed, those are thoughts that I believe every writer has. I have decided that for me anyway, they will never go away. And so one thing I do is lay all that out, and give it a nod. “Yes,” I say to my fear and doubt and sadness, “this all could be true. But do you want to try anyway?” So far, the answer has always been yes.
And remember, “essay” comes from the French verb “essayer,” which means, “to try.” All you are doing is trying.
Michelle Ortega says
I love this book too. I feel like we speak the same language! And it’s a pleasantly unfolding text, with space to breathe between thoughts. Always back to the breath. 😉
And, I just read a quote today that popped into my head when I read this. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. I’m sure *a publisher* wouldn’t sign you on if there was a doubt you could do it. Just sayin’. <3
Nicole Gulotta says
Your second paragraph really resonates—it’s an apt description of the writer’s life. Projects take longer, family life intervenes, we face self-doubt … this all sounds quite normal to me! I always like to say that “thinking is underrated.” Rewriting in our heads, pondering, and letting our subconscious forge connections is an essential ingredient to getting where we need to go. Onward!
Bethany R. says
I so enjoyed this post and the discussion. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your words and thoughts, dear Tweetspeak Community. 🙂