It has been almost 3 weeks since I wrote my last post here because I have been diligently working on my book. I’ve written 60 pages and it feels good. Only one day in 3 weeks did I not write and that’s because I had to be out that day and was just too exhausted that night but I was right back to writing the next day.
Has it been easy? No. Have I had hard bipolar days, cried, gnashed my teeth, and had days where I only wrote a few paragraphs that will probably be deleted down the line? Yes. But have I kept going under all circumstances? Yes. And some days it was like pulling teeth.
I have just read Natalie Goldberg’s latest book, The Great Spring. She is the author of my favorite book on writing, Writing Down The Bones, and I studied with Natalie twice, not long after Bones came out in 1986. They are releasing the 30th anniversary edition of Writing Down The Bones concurrent with The Great Spring and Natalie has written a new introduction about what it’s like 30 years later. What she taught, and teaches, still stands. It is the zen art of writing, and her zen teacher, Dainin Katagiri Roshi, would tell her to “Make positive effort for the good.” That’s what I have been doing, making positive effort for the good, every single day. Even if I cried through 3 paragraphs Saturday night with my hands so cold from a deep ball of anxiety that I could barely use my fingers to type. I wrote 3 paragraphs and they were pretty pitiful but I wrote them, and they stand, for now. That night it took great effort, like pushing a boulder up a mountain, but I kept my shoulder to the boulder with tears running down my cheeks.
Few days have been that hard and most days, I have to say, have been pure joy, the joy of actually writing, of doing the thing. Emerson wrote, “Do the thing and you will have the power.” There is something about writing that feels so good, and the next day coming back and rereading what I’ve written, a few chapters back and on forward is a thrilling thing. It’s not that I think I’m going to win the Pulitzer Prize, it’s that for the first time in year, years, I am continuing to write under all circumstances and every day that I write when I didn’t know how I could I build my writing muscles, I make them stronger, I show myself that a hard day does not mean writing is not possible even if I don’t get much else done the rest of the day if the writing is done I have really done something.
The book is an unusual book. It is a diary for all intents and purposes, a diary of a bipolar woman writing a book, the struggles, the joys, and everyday life including the four pugs and the loud ticking of the studio clock. It is cooking meals and writing words that add up to paragraphs that turn into pages and sometimes having to stitch the words to the page so they will hold. It is a book about being bipolar and trying my best despite all odds, and it tells the truth even when it is not pretty. It is a book I am proud of and come what may I will finish it.
Alongside the writing of the book I have been “making pages” for Pastiche, my bi-monthly zine, and with 2 weeks to go I have 51 of the 60 pages finished, so there has been a lot of work going on. And rather than one holding the other back, the book pushes Pastiche forward and the reverse happens too. It is exactly what Natalie meant when she said “Writing does writing.” The more you write, the more you write. It is so for the book alone as well.
I have gotten far enough along now that it takes too long to read from the beginning although periodically I do that too, but now I start about 3 sections back and read forward up to the place I will start writing so that I can enter the stream in a way that flows along and makes sense. I am calling them sections at this point because as it is a diary some of the pieces are several pages long and some are only a few paragraphs. I am simply using 3 asterisks at the beginning of each section to separate them for now in this first draft and I will see what feels right when I am doing my first revision.
The thing that is interesting is how my commitment to writing the book is affecting other areas of my life. I have gotten some hard news in another area of my life that undid me for a short period but not as bad and not for as long as it would have heretofore. There is something about building a practice, and writing is my daily practice, that stands you in good stead in other areas of your life. My therapist said that to me this past week when we were talking about what is going on and how even three months ago I would have been devastated and had a hard time managing at all. Steady on and steady she goes, that seems to be the ticket. I am writing my way forward not only through this book but in my life. I think any practice that you commit to and stay with will strengthen you in that way. Some people have a daily meditation practice, some run everyday, but having a daily practice and sticking to it shows you that you can indeed get up again and again and keep on going. In the end finishing this book will very likely be one of the most important things I have done in my life in terms of something that will see me through in the years ahead, because I know that after I finish this book I will write another. I have found my writing self again in the writing of this book, and that is a very powerful thing. I am a writer, hear me roar!
So back I go, into the book, writing words, making pages, and continuing on under all circumstances. Making positive effort for the good even when the good doesn’t feel good enough, and letting writing be what pushes writing up the mountain. I am on my way. It is good.