“Real writing, I was beginning to realize, was more like laying bricks than waiting for lightning to strike. It was painstaking. It was manual labor. And sometimes, sometimes if you kept putting the bricks down and let your hands just go on bleeding, and didn’t look up and didn’t stop for anything, the lightning came. Not when you prayed for it, but when you did your work.”
Paula McLain, Love and Ruin
For the past few years, I’ve been struggling with the task of writing my maternal grandmother’s story. I do mean, struggle. For the first couple of years, the story wandered here, there and everywhere. It had no focus. No purpose.
A course offered by the Alexandra Writers’ Centre in Calgary helped me find the focus and suddenly the story started coming together.
Until I hit That Chapter.
Some instinct deep inside me said, That Chapter is necessary to the story. I just couldn’t see how or why. I tried writing it a couple of times and got nowhere.
I stopped writing it. I stopped trying to write it.
It haunted me, stared at me, glared at me, dared me to put one word, any word on that virtual paper. I hid.
Until I read that passage above from Paula McLain’s wonderful book about Martha Gellhorn, an American journalist, war correspondent and author. If she could rise above the pain and struggle of writing, then so could I. I decided to use her analogy of writing as brick-laying and tackle That Chapter again.
I started with 15 minutes of “brick-laying.” You know, minimize the amount of self-inflicted pain, or something. So my hands wouldn’t be bleeding too much at the end of each session.
I set my timer for 15 minutes. I shut out the world. I starting writing. No editing, just writing. Just one word after another, one sentence after another.
Some days, 15 minutes went by in a flash. I was on a roll. I kept on writing. Other days, it was like pulling teeth (to use another metaphor). Those bricks were heavy and ill-fitting, and the mortar wouldn’t set. I was relieved when the timer went off. I went in search of metaphorical bandages for my metaphorical bleeding hands.
But guess what? That Chapter is now written. It’s terrible. It needs serious re-writing. And editing. But in the process I began to get a glimmer of why I first thought, way back when, that That Chapter was essential to my grandmother’s story. Now that I understand the purpose of That Chapter, it will be easier (relatively speaking) to write it.
Sometimes, even painful brick-laying pays off.
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