I wrote this for the class I took called Ecology of Language and Place. It was posted on April 13, 2009. Although I would rework it some today, the essence of the piece is fairly intact. I was actually looking for something else, and discovered that the class blog was still active! Here is a link to the original, I believe you can get to other things I wrote at that time through this.

There are those who say that writing is “hard work” — I suppose it is, just as gardening is hard work, and building a house is hard work, and art is hard work. They all take dedication, time. They require focus and effort. They produce in direct relation to the amount invested in them. Talent helps, yes. And interest as well – obviously if you are not interested in a task, you are less likely to be successful. Still, writing at its most basic level is a task like reading or doing arithmetic, and even people who have little initial ability can generally learn the basics. For a person who has the aptitude and interest, however, writing is much more than a task, it is an endeavor, a craft.

Words, like clay, like wood, like metal, like stone, like paint, unfailingly respond to the artist, if not always in precisely the intended direction. Art flows under the hand of the creator, or seemingly with a mind of its own it takes shape. Yes, mistakes can be made. And are. Over time those mistakes are fewer, more easily remedied. It takes time, training, guidance. It requires practice, it requires patience. Some are better at it than others, but all can achieve some level of success. It can be difficult, yes, but not insurmountably so. No more difficult than working. No more time consuming than any other job. It can be learned, it can be improved. Still, most of the difficulty in writing comes from within, and not from any intrinsic difficulty or challenge of that task. The best (and only) way to overcome the difficulty of writing is to just get started…

Perspective helps in reaching this assessment of the difficulty of writing. Compared to parenting, writing holds the possibility of mastery, of a successful outcome. Writing can be set down for vacations, or to spend time on other pursuits. Parenting requires near-constant attention and effort. Even in sleep, the parent is on call, there is no halfway. You are either present for your child(ren) or you are not. Parenting, unlike many other pursuits, has absolutely no guarantees. One cannot know how a child will turn out no matter how talented and industrious the parent is. While watering and tending a garden will almost certainly ensure some sort of harvest, feeding and tending a child does not: a child has a unique path and destination, and your hopes and dreams and proddings are merely peripheral. You can be a competent parent, but you can never master parenting.

But writing? Writing is creative, it is quiet… and hard work pays off. No, writing is not “hard” in the way that other facets of life can be.

The most difficult part of writing is the beginning – and the end can be challenging too. So I start in the middle, figure out what I am trying to say, then go back and work on the rest. Or, I just write. Just write… just start writing and worry about content and organization later. Sometimes, the easiest way to start is to jump in and worry about form later. But no matter what, if I can’t concentrate on my writing – if the children are fighting or the dog is in my lap, I can’t focus on the task, no matter how inspired I may have been when I began.

Focus. Yes, focus is key. Not “time” per se, not even “volume” as I suggested to my writing group last week. No, focus is the heart of the matter. When the writer/painter/gardener – yes, even the parent – is able to enter into high focus, time recedes, effort vanishes. There is a suspension of everything but this moment, this move or this idea that matters. Only this one matters. And then the next one. When I write for myself, I am “in the zone” — I can lose all sense of time, and emerge in a fog at the end, astonished at the result. The same happens, more predictably, when I am in my garden, or when I am painting, and happens on occasion when I am with my children, engaged in one sort of exploration or another.

When I write for others, as I do in this class, or for the occasional essay that is required for jobs, I find it more difficult to place myself in the zone. But I can – when I must. It’s not easy, it is work (and feels like it) but once I get started, I can generally meet deadlines with a reasonable product. I write research-based papers easily, have a growing body of creative writing hidden in various places, and rarely extend my neck to write a thesis-based essay. I prefer to keep my opinions to myself…

Do I care what others think of my writing? Not unless it’s important for a grade or a job. Even papers and essays written on command no longer worry me much. Like any artist, I know that some people will not like my style or content. That, though, is their problem. I know others are better writers, or more prolific. But though their work may be interesting and informative, the only comparison for my work is my work. Am I doing my best, and is there improvement from one project to the next? My concern is that my writing be clean and as free of grammatical or spelling errors as possible; and that the meaning I intend is clear. The only time I feel I have failed is when people misunderstand my work, and that – as time passes – occurs less and less often.

Of course, as we live, we learn, we grow. I see several points of merit in this piece. One is my clear emphasis on the ability of people to grow, to continue learning and becoming. I notice how much I compared all parts of my life to my parenting experiences. I still do that, but as I am active outside the home I am incorporating that broader range of experiences into my thinking. I am, now that I have both studied teaching and thrown myself wholeheartedly into that profession, gratified to find that my over-arching belief in the value of patience and practice is supported by both research and the experience of other teachers.

I write, not because I think it will be valuable to other people, but because I believe it is of value to me. As I write, I learn how to write better. If my work also helps others, so much the better.


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