Today’s Ramble about Writing

(I wrote what’s below just hours before all of the incredible comments you all left for me yesterday.  I will take that great advice and move forward with new inspiration and faith in the process.  Thank you to my brilliant, caring, dear, dear readers!)

Getting started is the hardest part—making myself do the work. 

I wonder how other people motivate themselves to write, tolerate sitting quietly and tending to the text.  It exhausts me.  I feel swallowed by the enormity of the task, dwarfed by it. 

Clearly the key to writing is, as you might have guessed, writing.  But for whatever reason it’s difficult to wrap my brain around that obvious reality.

Perhaps, this is because right now I don’t want to write.  I want the writing to happen without my being involved.  I want the text to write itself.  And for whatever reason “writing” refuses to comply with my wishes.  Bloody stubborn thing that writing is!

However, sitting back, watching and waiting won’t get this memoir written.  And I can’t tell you how many excuses I’m able to come up with for why I can’t do it—why I need to wait, reevaluate, regroup, and reconsider. 

I think this might be about wanting to do it perfectly.  But, I remind myself, if I have to do it perfectly or not at all, then I will, in fact, not do it.  It seems obvious that perfection is impossible, but, good God, I long for that holy grail of rightness and wisdom!

I’ve always told my students that they have to be willing to write their way through the shit to get to the good stuff, that they have to risk writing crap.  It’s part of the process, the part that fertilizes what comes later.

I guess, in this regard, I’m my writerly self’s own worst enemy.

I also complain that I can’t write because I can’t recall so much of what’s happened.  Here I have to tell myself, that my struggle to remember much of my own past need not preclude autobiographical writing—that I could, ironically, write a memoir about forgetting—that I could write a memoir not just about what I remember, but could research and then write about what I’ve forgotten.

new, mixed media collage with a message for moving forward

That I could write a memoir that is largely about the nature of memory itself—the underside of which is defined by an amnesia, of sorts.

I pray this blog can be an avenue into that foreign and forgotten space, that as I write about our living abroad, first in Vietnam, then in Haiti, and God only knows where next, that as I tell our tale of travel and tea in new places, this other story will unfold, unwrap itself in words and pictures.

38 thoughts on “Today’s Ramble about Writing

  1. These are all such great observations. It’s difficult enough to write, let alone to write about our own experiences, let alone to write about our own experiences that we have blocked out in order to protect ourselves. The result will be life-defining. And, your comment about writing about forgetting is fascinating, in light of all those people out there who have done exactly that. I actually know one man who has no recollection of anything negative that happened to him in childhood, and she told me. His wife was told about it by her sister-in-law. Whenever anyone mentions it to him, he just stares at them, like someone who has amnesia.


    • I would love to read a memoir that deals with issues of forgetting. I’ve not seen any. Can you share any titles? I’m reading a memoir now called “The Memory Palace” but it doesn’t really discuss forgetting. Some folks who write about Multiple Personality Disorder deal with amnesia, but these memoirs are usually more dramatically about the disorder than they are a reflection on the relationship between remembering and forgetting.

      The story about the man you know is fascinating. Let me be sure I understand correctly–the sister-in-law of the man told the man’s wife about a tramatic thing that happened to the man, that the man himself had not only not shared with his wife, but, in fact, didn’t remember at all?


  2. It always amazes me what our minds can do to help us and yet also provide the perfect hiding place for other memories. I sometimes put on an observational hat and just write what I see at that moment. Perhaps this is a place to begin. Reflection at a later date might shed some new light?


    • Exactly, Kim! I’m really considering starting with something from the 1990s, as I have more actual memories and more material to help me fill in the gaps–journals, medical records, video-taped therapy sessions. You are right that writing about the more recent past may be the best place to start———– Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  3. I’m trying to think of a title for you. It’s not a memoir, it’s actually fiction, but I think it would be an interesting look at memory. If I can remember what it is (HA!) I will send the title to you.
    I wonder if it would help you to approach this not as a memoir but as a biography of someone else. Do you know what I mean?


  4. The majority of my “art” carries with it, a narration for each piece. Often times, the writing seems to flow as I easily pen the thoughts that went into the work. However, there ARE those occasions when I sit and stare for hours wondering, “Exactly what was I thinking…?” I resolved to take notes. Lots and lots of notes throughout the day! Be it a self-reminder to pick up a gallon of milk wheile I’m out, or a momentary “flash” of a particilar memory from the past. I found myself laughing several days ago. Thumbing through my scribbled reminders, staring at a recently completed work. The note simply said, “Coffee”. “Exactly, what was I thinking…?”!


    • What a hoot! Clearly you must have needed a shot of caffeine!

      Taking notes throughout the day is a great idea–and something I sometimes remember to do it–as long as I have written the random note to remind myself to take notes! Ha, ha!

      Thanks so much for reading–hope you’ll come back–and thanks for the “note” you left me!


  5. I hate this feeling you’re describing. It sucks. Just plain and simple. Getting started is the worst part, the hugest hurdle, and the biggest pain in my ass, lol. It’s what I struggled with for TWO years before finally realizing that I was either going to have to start writing the dissertation or definitely lose funding in my department. (A loss of money can be pretty motivating, lol.)

    It’s true that writing can be lonely. But I think that if you keep sharing with your readers like you’ve been doing, you’ll discover that you’re not writing for nothing. 🙂 I love blogging for this reason–it has proven to me that an audience exists…and that they respond! (That’s the best part to me.)


    • Yes, yes, yes–the community is the best part of blogging! And what I believe will make my memoir happen. I’m just glad I’m not facing a dissertation. There was a time, I thought I’d be up for that–but now–NO WAY!

      Good luck with your pages today!


  6. Sometimes when I get to a particularly difficult passage I have to sneak up on myself, if that makes any sense. Here’s an idea I had: approach your memoir as a series of blog posts. You wouldn’t necessarily post them to the blog, but just save them in draft form. Maybe in these bite size nuggets, it will be more digestable (pardon the pun) and the enormity of the task will be less overwhelming.
    I didn’t realize you were a teacher! What subjects / grades did you teach?


    • Actually, Jacqueline, thinking of them as bite size nuggests is a great idea. If I can figure out how to break a big task into tiny pieces, I can do almost anything. I think was hangs me up about a memoir is length. Great advice!

      By the way, I taught college writing.


  7. Kathy–
    (back to Next to Normal…sorry…) there’s a portion of the show where Diana receives ECT and as a relsult, forgets a huge portion of her life…
    and yet…it still comes back…because she hasn’t dealt with it all yet, it still (memory) finds its way back to her.
    she handles items from the past…that helps…the touching, being near.
    your memoir won’t “look” like any one else’s–that would be boring. Yours will look like Kathy’s memoir. If there are 10 blank pages that represent time you can’t recall…isn’t that as valuable as 10 pages filled top to bottom?
    think away from letters and words…maybe? and think…texture, smell, feel…
    and, remember, I don’t know anything about which I am talking…I am sure there are rules, somewhere, about writing…but I don’t know what they are.


    • Wow, fascinating idea–especially trying to focus on sensory details related to touch and smell. I have a line about this in a poem, about how smell like touch always precedes seeing and memory–the most primal senses. And touch may be the more important of the two for me.

      Actually, your instincts as a writer are incredible–that’s what makes your blog so successful. And the best writers are the ones who manage to break the rules successfully, if that makes sense. For example, the sentence fragment is supposed to be a no-no, but some of the greatest writers make the fragment work brilliantly for them, and that’s where genius can sometimes shine through.

      Some of the rest of you who teach writing—help me out here–Amanda, Lisa!!!! Can you explain this?


    • I don’t know if I can explain it. I do know that rules are made to be broken sometimes. While I encourage my students to learn the rules, I also acknowledge the times when breaking them seems to be the most creative and strong choice. The problem, with many of the students, is that they are not really choosing carefully but simply breaking the “rules’ because they don’t know them. I have been encouraging them to incorporate more details and more of themselves, which often means the fragments that they use in every day speech. I don’t know if that is a wise choice, but as many of my current students will not go on to write academic dissertations, I feel like it is more important to let them find the voice that works for them. I love the idea that your memoir, Kathy, will look like “Kathy’s memoir”. Your voice is strong and powerful, that is why so many people read your blog. I am beginning to think the most important thing to good writing is not the rules, but the passion behind the words.


      • Yes, I would not let my students get away with fragments unless I were convinced they were fragmenting purposefully–knew the rule well enough to know that it was in their creative interest to break it! Absolutely. I had a student last May, who was a truly amazing writer–an amazing writer who brilliantly used the fragment. I think she may be the one student who got away with it in all my years of teaching.


  8. I love the collage too…

    I know what you mean about wanting the writing to do itself…I have that wish a lot! It’s a shame we can’t all employ “writing fairies” to do our bidding!



    • Yes, Wendy! Where can we find some of those fairies? Sometimes, I just feel so damn lazy and don’t want to work at writing. If you find a source for those fairies, you better not keep it all to yourself, cause I can use the help too! Ha, ha!


  9. You shouldn’t try to force anything….when it’s time…the writing will just start flowing on its own….on its own schedule 🙂


    • God, I hope you’re right about this, Mark! How wonderful it would be for it to flow. The only fear is that it might not and I will have sat around waiting for another 10 years. I guess the question is what one does or does not do to induce the flow. I think what I’m doing now is trying to prime the pump–if that makes sense.


  10. One of the quotes I use to motivate myself is this:

    “A year from now, you might wish you had started today.”

    I can’t even remember who said it, but I find it very helpful. The way I see it– Even if I only do a little bit of work today, imagine how much work will accumulate after 365 “todays”! 🙂

    Good luck, Kathy– and way to clear the most difficult hurdle: starting!


  11. I certainly believe the writing will come, Kathy. You’ll find the words that will churn in your mind and make you restless and fidgety until you commit them to paper/keyboard. You have so much of value to share, but I would encourage you to consider the writing to be a process that will be helpful and not stressful for you. So write when you can and take time out when you can’t.
    Sunshine xx


  12. What are those stamps you used in the collage? Look Eastern.

    I don’t know if it would detract from the current focus of your blog, but I would love to hear about what it’s like being in Kentucky. The place, the people, the Spring there. (copy of what I wrote on my blog). Maybe writing about something other than your main project will help get you started?


    • I had the stamps made in Hanoi–so they are Vietnamese.

      But, you know what–I think this is a great recommendation! Kentucky is lovely in the Spring–though it has been damn cold the last two days, threatening snow. However, our first week back was sunny and warm.

      I will do some of this–great idea, Lisa!


  13. I don’t know if I could stand writing a whole memoir. For me it would have to be more like a series of short stories with a loose connection, because I can’t remember every little thing either. I’m realizing more and more that I have many more stories in me than I could ever have time to write, and many of them would involve revisiting places that I’ve struggled to free myself from. I just don’t necessarily want to write most of those stories down.

    Sometimes when I shine a light on my past, as I’ve done recently, I feel a bit odd. Something is released inside me and that’s good, but maybe because these stories involve other, very real, people with their own points of view, I feel weird writing them down. I wonder if that part of it feels daunting for you, too?


    • It’s good to know that about yourself. I don’t know what makes me want to go back. I guess it’s because my story of escape may encourage others who are similarly trapped, that they too can get away. Plus, I’m curious to analyze how I did manage to make it–cause I was told by doctors that I wouldn’t,

      Oh, and I KNOW I’m odd–I am one strange cookie. Glad to know I’m not alone in that department!

      Thanks so much for reading!


  14. You can do it, Kathy. As for the memory part, I’m reminded by family members and relatives all the time about stuff that happened while growing up that I have absolutely no recollection of. Not the faintest idea. However, I have some memories of my own that I feel very clear on. Go figure.
    I just want to mention that when I began reading this blog I got the sense that there is one thing that is blocking you big time and when it’s identified it will feel like the floodgates opened. The tricky part is uncovering it. I know someone who has a gift at helping people uncover their blocks. He teaches a seminar locally and via teleclass. I’ve seen him help many many people. Just wanted to mention because I care.


    • Ah, thanks, Marianne! What a sweet comment. Part of what’s blocked me a lot, I think, is that I felt I couldn’t talk or write about the biggest and most game-changing things that had ever happened to me–such a double bind! It’s so strange the way this blog has evolved.


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