Write Like Emily

One of my all-time favorite poets since I was a child is Emily Dickinson.  Her poems were beautifully simple and readable, easy to memorize, with a haunting profoundness that grows deeper each time I revisit her poetry.

Not only was I a fan of her writing style, but I was also enamored of the mythology of her life, how she diligently wrote her poems, almost 1800 poems, most of them unpublished during her lifetime.  I imagined how she was someone who wrote tirelessly at night, savoring the poems for herself and her few chosen loved ones.  Then she carefully stored them in a large chest, and they never again saw the light of day, not while she was living.

This is something that I really admired about Emily Dickinson, her quiet, private diligence and the fact that she wrote for herself, not for anyone else.  There was a purity to this act of writing that I emulated and felt was perhaps the purest form of self-expression, especially those bold emdashes in place of commas or periods.  

Writers write for different reasons, many public, many more private.  So many of writers have that goal of being published, perhaps indulging in their dreams of what being an author entails vs the reality of writing.  Some write and it feels to the reader as if these writers are most concerned in demonstrating their extensive and polysyllabic vocabulary.  Some write and you can tell the draft just needs more work.  Also, there’s the common joke among writers that writing is cheaper than therapy.  

How to be a writer?  Write like Emily.  Spill out the strange fears of your soul onto the page and propel your syntax forward with bold emdashes.  Just write.

Write Like Emily

The Secret to Being a Writer

I stopped writing for a long time.  I was burnt out, feeling like I was barely treading water, almost drowning in overwhelm.  So I took a break to study something completely different, improve my health, and find myself again.  At the end of my grad school experience, I took a deep introspective look into myself.  Am I a writer?  What makes one a writer?

When you’re a writer, you’re always living in your imagination.  Often the imagination is a wonderful place to visit, ideas abound, grow, and multiply and anything is possible.  This can also be quite a challenge when you try to translate those amazing ideas into concrete words.  Because words are limited and often quite incapable of pinpointing precisely what you had dreamed up in your imagination.  That’s part of the thrill, transforming dreams into reality, thinking up those precise words, making them flow, making them sing.

As a writer, your powerful imagination can also get you in trouble, since often the world will fail to live up to anything you can dream up.  And if your dream is to be published, it can be a long, bumpy road to becoming an author, with many unexpected twists and turns.  

But in the end, the work is worth the twisty-bumpy journey.  When I spoke earlier this year at the Mountain View Library Local Author Fair, one of the audience members was a retired schoolteacher and said she was so glad to learn about my picture book Summoning the Phoenix and wished it had been published when she was actively teaching.  And that’s all I needed to hear, to get that little creative spark going again.

To be a writer, one must write one word after another.  It’s that simple.  But simple is not always easy.  It’s not easy because life is demanding and complex, and often we must put life on hold in order to write.  You have to find space for writing, time for writing, and energy for writing.  It’s not easy, but it’s possible.  

Are you a writer?  The secret is…Just write.  Write in the between times, in the between spaces.  Write during your lunch breaks.  Write when you’re waiting for an appointment or get there earlier.  Write during commercial breaks.  Write whenever you’re taking public transportation.  Write while your child or loved ones are taking naps.  Write while you’re waiting for your coffee or tea.  

Writers write, so just write because a little bit every day can add up to one substantial book.  This is what I tell myself as I summon my very limited energies and reclaim the role of writer with the goal to transform my imagination into books, into stories, into poetry.

Just write.