Is there such a thing as Writer’s Anonymous?

There wasn’t a lot left – a couple of drops, really. But it called to me and awakened something inside of me. Not really lust, not really gluttony, but more of a memory than anything else. It was a drop of liquid that held a vision of a whole other life; a life spent spiraling and searching for an ethereal reality that couldn’t exist. Still, that vision of life was there, dancing in those few drops: A version of a life I thought I wanted.

It was a romantic idea, really. Hemingway did it; Steinbeck did it. I could go on but the image of the tortured writer spending endless and countless days scribbling thousands of unintelligible words into tattered and worn notebooks until he had another Old Man and the Sea or another Grapes of Wrath was a vision of a perfect life to me. Only I wasn’t like those glorified scribblers. If I spent an afternoon hunched over a bar sipping tequila, my pen might move from time to time, but then, the next day, I’d review my previous day’s work and see that it may as well have been written in Aramaic. There was no way to know what the hell I wrote. Maybe I wasn’t really writing anything; maybe I was just moving a pen in various lines across notebook pages.

But damn, I wanted to be a tortured writer on the hunt for the perfect set of words that would become my legacy. I wanted so badly to be just like those writers who lived their lives on the edge of reality and lunacy. It was a lust greater than any man could have. I figured that living on that edge would make my writing life somehow more real.

So when I saw those couple of drops of tequila lingering in a mostly empty shot glass, I saw that distorted reflection of who I thought I wanted to be and realized that the edge of sanity I sought wasn’t all that great a place to live. Alcohol may bring lunacy, but it doesn’t help with writing. I saw in those drops that attempting a writing life, in and of itself, creates lunacy; it simply isn’t easy parsing through millions of thoughts with a net that only holds a hundred or so at a time. It’s like fishing for plankton with a net suited for landing giant catfish. But what the hell, I keep at it, which is the lunacy and irrationality of the writer.

I remember this one time, after spending hours at a little dive, I scribbled enough words to fill more than 20 pages of a notebook. At some point, I placed the notebook down somewhere and went to take a leak. When I was done, I searched the joint for my damn notebook – but it disappeared. It was gone and I wasn’t even drunk. I threw back, MAYBE, two or three shots over the course of an entire afternoon, but somehow, that notebook went threw some notebook-rapture-vortex and entered into another dimension of sight and sound. Wherever it went, though, I wasn’t there. I was more than angry about losing that notebook; I drove home in complete grief over the loss.

This thing called a writing life is a bad habit, alcohol or no alcohol. I can’t quit – hell, I’m not even sure I want to leave it. Writing transports me – in my own parlance: I am a compulsive writer. Maybe I should start a “writer’s anonymous” group. “Hi,” I’d say at the start of my testimony. “My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.”

The group would chorus back to me, “Hi Juan!”

The problem was never the alcohol. The problem, if there’s one, is that I write because I have no other choice. When I’m sitting in my rocking chair wondering if the grandkids will ever visit me, I’m certain that if I can still hold a stupid pen, I’ll write a poem or a verse about how much old age sucks. I’m certain that I’ll still be fishing for plankton in my mind, even if I’m senile, I’ll be grasping at some great collection of words that I won’t fully capture.

Or maybe I won’t. Maybe my WA 12 step group will cure of my writing addiction. I don’t drink or drug. Don’t gamble much. Writing is my only remaining vice. I wonder if my writing glass will ever be down to 2 drops. On second thought, no I don’t. My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.

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The flames burned away the wretchedness of self-doubt

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I watched the flames dance and eat and I couldn’t help but become entranced.  Their sinewy movements hypnotized me and sent me into a place within myself that had been shielded; It’s like I’d been hiding from myself and needed something to strip away the veils that had been keeping me from seeing what I know to be true.

Although I had my camera and shot the flames, it was more like I was a part of the show, like somehow my camera lens connected me to the fire.  I could almost feel the lens heating; without a doubt, something inside of me was awakening as the flames consumed the cedar posts.  Although it had been a while, the pics I snapped reminded me of why I do what I do…

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I write.  I teach.  Everything else is just a means to those two ends.  The reality is that I lose myself in words and I become a part of something far bigger when I lead a classroom.  The truth is that I don’t really know how to do anything else — I write because if I don’t, the embers will fade and die out and my soul’s light would be stifled under the weight of forgoing who I am.

And so the fire danced.  Something new was born within the rising ash.  I could feel layers of self-doubt make their way out of me and into the night’s black sky.  You see, I was scheduled to start teaching again and I really began to wonder if I had it in me, anymore, to stand before people and guide them to something inside of themselves.  But in the fire’s glow, I could see myself creating a learning environment with other people and I actually felt the framework form, even as I was nowhere near a pen and paper.  I saw the lesson come together as the embers floated — it was as though they traced the topic for me.  All I had to do was get it on paper.

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I did and I led a successful class.  The doubt is gone and I am back where God’ image has always directed me to be……

In 90 days, i should have a novel

I talk and teach a lot about goals and about how if a person can name a goal and then make steady and measureable progress towards that goal, then that person will achieve the goal. In hearing myself and reading my own words, I’m reminded of a writing conference session I attended several years ago in which the presenter said that though he was providing a strong blueprint for writing a book, few attendees would actually follow his plan.

He was right; I didn’t take his advice. Though I’ve written two (2) books since then, I have no doubt I’d be further along had I taken his teachings and applied them to my own writing life. Plus, I figure I need to show how goals work, rather than simply write about them. To that end, I am starting a writing program today. I’m following the plan laid out in a book called, “90 Days to Your Novel,” by Sarah Domet. The goal of this writing program is to complete a draft of a novel in, well, ninety (90) days.

Through the lens of “SMART” goals, I believe this goal is viable: the goal is Specific because there is a hard product that should come of the program; the goal is Measurable because I should be able to see how far I’ve come by sticking to the writing assignments laid out in the book; the assignments seem to be Achievable, as long as I actually do them; I am a writer and have written a novel before so the goal is Relevant; and lastly, the ninety (90) days provides a Time-box in which the goal should be completed.

My plan is to do the exercises included in the book and write a post about my progress. If the assignments are share-able, I’ll do so as well. I figure I should take my own advice and flow through the SMART goal process as a means to show others that goals can in fact be achieved. Stay tuned.