Shut Up and Write! There are books. Meetups. Online sessions. There are methods marketed to writers who want to write but, due to any number of circumstances, cannot get the words down on the page. Writer’s block. Lack of time. Lack of discipline.
I am not here to tell you those methods can’t work sometimes. And I am not going to say there aren’t situations in life that may call for more structure. Imposed deadlines. A kick in the seat of the pants that you simply cannot give yourself (for obvious anatomical reasons).
But at some point, once you have learned the craft of writing, filled your toolbox with techniques and how-tos, it’s time to write. To write when the words are flowing. To keep writing when they seem only to trickle. To embrace the muses when they arrive to gift you two lines of a poem. Or a paragraph. Or a hundred pages. To wait patiently for the muses when they seem to be elsewhere, eating donuts or drinking lattes, leaving you all alone to face the blank page.
There is terror in a blank page. I am not denying that. I’ve felt it. I still feel it. But, like a visual artist, I embrace this uneasy feeling as part of the writing process. I get creative. I get messy. I doodle. I listen to music. I birdwatch. I write an ode to the blank page, to the absent muses. I map the migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird. I let myself go down the rabbit hole of research, learn more than I ever thought I’d know about things like moss and lichen, thunderstorms, what crop failure means during the harvest season.
I listen. I observe. I collect. I carefully record.
It is a practice. And, like a musician who knows his instrument, who has learned the notes and time signatures, I keep at it, giving myself permission to produce shitty drafts composed of sentences that no one other than myself will ever see or hear. I write and I write, and eventually a rhythm emerges, words strung together that finally sound like song. And, suddenly, the hours—the days or weeks—of practicing seem worthwhile.
And then there is a blank page again. And again.
I will sometimes take a first draft to a writing workshop or send it to a writer friend whose feedback I have come to trust. But, more often than not, I let it sit. I think about it. I contemplate a writing date, an opportunity to spend intimate time with my first draft. Alone. (Maybe there is a bottle of wine.) I wonder what its online dating profile might be: This essay loves long meandering sentences that go nowhere. It is looking for stronger verbs. It enjoys a good metaphor but thinks maybe it needs more concrete details to attract the right reader.
Writing is my life. It is mostly a solitary endeavor, and the introvert in me finds that apt. I have discovered a great local writing community and will go to readings and events to be inspired by the work of other writers. But the act itself, the practice, is one I have learned to manage on my own. To turn off the noises, the distractions of what everyone else is doing—page counts, word counts, publications, panels, trends, methods, software programs—and I face the page, no matter how terrifying, no matter where the muses might be. Day after day, week after week, I focus. I ramble. I have fun. I shut up and write.
Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including terrain.org, Brevity, Lumina, and Literary Mama, as well as many others. Moriconi earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. She lives in the Philadelphia area and teaches in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Rosemont College.