The urge to journal has been overwhelming lately. A quick glance through my notes reveals this. And yet I resist because it doesn’t feel like work, like progress. I wonder if such efforts will add up to anything publishable. But still, I can’t ignore the urge to just write about all the swirling thoughts. And then I read a FB post from the writer Amy Gigi Alexander:
“Tonight I was thinking about all the really dreadful things that happen to one. I mean the dark and terrible, and the grim and depressing – those things which cause anxiety, self-doubt, and make you wish you’d never tried. There’s much you have to overcome to be the person you’re called to be, to do the things which have your name on them – I guess, to even recognize that’s your name on the binding.
But one day, you realize you got to the other side, past all those things. You wouldn’t have gotten to that spot unless those people hadn’t given you a hard time. To get to where you are, you had to really want it. The truth is, the bad stuff can help you define who you are, just as much as the good – and sometimes more so.
I had a bully in elementary school. Her name was Peggy Johnson. Oh, she was cruel. She would scare me every morning telling me she was going to beat me up after school, and I was terrified of her. I was so scared of her, I used to shake, and when I told other kids and my teacher about her threats no one cared. Everyone would just tell me that I was making a big deal out of it, or that I should just avoid her, which was impossible. Sometimes she would hit me in the stomach behind the school yard, and I would just try to be as quiet as possible when it happened, in hopes she would stop.
I barely survived fifth grade because of Peggy Johnson, had it not been for the HARRIET THE SPY books which taught me this: You don’t have to fit in, you just have to be really good. Like Harriet: she was excellent at taking notes. Notes that mattered, later. I began taking notes on Peggy, and those notes helped me understand who she was, and who I was, too. I used those notes later to put her in her place, and it worked.
I’ve taken so many notes in the last ten years. I took notes on how I felt, and every single thing that happened – there is nothing that happened – there is nothing has affected me that I did not write down, in detail. I paid rapt attention. I’ve been like Harriet in that way most of my life, but especially recently. I’ve written more for myself personally, in diary format, in the last three years, than I have in the last twenty. There’s been a great deal to observe and reflect on.
“Well, I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY
In a weird way, I’m glad I met Peggy Johnson. I remember the day I stood up to her still, and how she never bothered me again. Not to condone bullying, but the resilient side of myself took Peggy and made something good come out of her. And that’s kind of what adult life is like too – you will meet people who don’t think you can – but the thing is, you very much can, and you will. You really will.
“Life is a struggle and a good spy goes in there and fights.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY
Take good notes, because the notes matter. Journaling will be the thing that helps you get to the place you are supposed to be. You’ll see yourself change long before anyone else does. And that’s quite a thing to witness. It’s a force. We’ve all got it.”
And so I am journaling. I began on Monday. My resistance to journaling is connected to my (slowly being phased out) standard operating procedure which is: work as hard and as fast as possible. I’m attempting a new tack. I’m going to not rush. I am going to write daily. My writing may be publishable, it may not. I am recommitting myself to the work. To keep the pen and the pencil moving across the page. I kickstarted my novel on June 1 after spending almost 9 months researching and brainstorming and preparing for it. I’ve got some great scenes down. But, guess what? I’m not ready yet. There are parts of it that are completely blank in my mind. And I know some people will say that I’ve just got to do the work and I’ll write my way into it. But, something tells me that won’t work for me for this novel or for me.
First, I haven’t had the time to go through and elaborate on my notes from my research road trip to the South – which is all fodder for the novel. Second, I received a text this week that triggered a cascade of memories that I’ve been pushing under a rug and that directly influences my work on this novel. I felt raw after reading that text. And I know that what that means is that I need to turn toward that pain and fear and figure out what’s on the other side. I need more time to write for myself about this issue before I share it in the form of a novel. I need to complete some circles in my life story. I need time to write my personal story. I need time to read more craft books. I need time to read more YA novels. I need time.
It is not laziness that is compelling me (which is a big fear for me), it’s the necessity of figuring out an honest and true way to live my story before I tell my story. And the feeling that if I try to skip to making a pretty bloom (without a stem or roots), I will not have learned what I am supposed to learn. Instead, I’m building my soil, adding compost. I’m letting me change. I’m writing the changes down. I’m practicing being brave in the way I need to be right now: by going slowly.
A colleague reviewed one of my manuscripts this week and I was reminded that sometimes the best kind of feedback is a series of thoughtful questions.