Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lesson learned...again

“You learn ten thousand lessons in your life, either ten thousand different lessons or the same one over and over ten thousand times.”
Bike store owner I once knew in Chicago.

After a winter in which I have perfected my impersonation of a hibernating slug, I stepped away from my desk chair and my house Sunday and went looking for sandhill cranes. These tall birds with rusty heads appear in March, usually in pairs, walking their backward-bending walk and clacking like hollow wooden sticks. They come to a woody marsh about thirty miles from where I live, and the window of opportunity for seeing them is brief: warm enough that they’ve returned but still cold enough to walk over the frozen marsh to see them.

I heard them before I saw them, and the whole time I wandered over the ice their clackety clacking helped me spot them, sometimes walking, sometimes taking wing and flapping slowly by.

I came back and put my butt in chair again, and I may never write about the cranes except in this blog. But seeing them has made me glad, and that’s not a bad thing for a writer. In time I’ll probably forget how glad they made me, and I’ll have to learn again that stepping away from my work for a while can actually make me a better writer or at least a less cranky one.

So what lessons about your own writing process have you learned—or relearned and relearned and relearned?


  1. ...That the harder I try, the worse I write.

    I watched "Rivers and Tides" (your wonderful suggestion) last night, the documentary about natural artist Andy Goldsworthy. I had to run and grab a notebook to catch all of his quotables. Among my favorites: "Taut control can be the death of a work."

    Of course, he was "gluing" pieces of ice along the edges of a giant bolder in freezing temperatures with bare hands before the sun melted it all away; I'm just cuddled up by my space heater trying to pound out a few letters, sans camera crew and exotic locations. Still, my takeaway, and something I need to hear and see and remind myself every day: Let go and get going. Ice chip by ice chip, or letter by letter, depending on the day.

  2. Sandhill cranes! I've only seen them at a distance, and they were flying, not dancing. Too fun.

    What I keep relearning: I can't let myself be afraid of writing (i.e. run screaming from the keyboard because EVERYTHING I'M WRITING SUCKS) because revision is going to take care of it. Who knows, maybe that whole awful scene is going to be cut altogether because something better comes along. Which it generally does. Which is why I should get off the internets and work on the story again, hint hint.