By Kaila Kuban
It’s 3:19 and I’ve been sitting in silence with the two ladies in my writing group for 45 minutes. The only thing I hear is the low groan of the air-conditioner and the tip-tap-tip of the keys: my keys, Leah’s keys, Liz’s keys. I’ve not known these women long, but today in their presence I feel calm. This is not a normal feeling for me…especially when I write.
I know I don’t have to explain this to you, fellow writer, because you probably just get it. You hear the Thomas Mann quote that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” and you’re all ‘OMG…yes’. You might even know your own “productive-writing-to-screwing-around-ratio” that Mindy Kaling discusses (hers is one-to-seven). But if you are like Mindy, or me, or most writers you’ve scoured websites and ‘how to write’ books for the panacea to your writing avoidance. And you’ve probably found some good advice.
Writers are lousy with good advice.
Every few months there is some hot new ‘writing diet’ nearly-guaranteed to make us all write – and by extension, alright. And just like with weight-loss diets, write-gain diets offer contradictory tips like: shut off your internet, schedule your writing time, do morning pages, free write at night, exercise first, exercise after (could we exercise during?), write on an empty stomach, write with wine, write with coffee, write while at a desk, write on a comfy couch, write where it’s quiet – or no, write where there’s ambient noise. After all, as the coffitivity app (which brings the noise of a coffee shop to your laptop) states, “the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee house is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.”
Ah yes, proven…research shows…these are the words that hook us into trying any magic-bullet writing regimen promising that this will get us to put pen to paper or fingers to keys.
For many of us, our ‘how to write’ prescriptions include a healthy dose of group therapy in the form of writer’s groups. I’m not knocking these groups (in fact, I recently wrote about my own beloved group for this very blog), but most of the times these aren’t writing groups as much as they are support groups for writers: a place where writers talk about what we’re writing or why we’re stuck and not writing.
And that may be part of the problem.
As Cheryl Strayed (under the pseudonym ‘Sugar’) once said in a writing-advice column, “Writing is hard for every last one of us…Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same.”
And towards that end goal of ‘simply writing’ I’ll add my two cents. I’m not going to pretend that what I’m about to advise is new or different, but I’m going to say it anyway, because it works for me and it just might work for you. So here it is: write with people. Write. With. People. Because there is something magical that happens when two or three or ten or twenty writers get together and actually write. Maybe it’s because writing together counteracts the inherent solitude of writing or makes us accountable to others. In reality I don’t know why writing together works.
Here is what I do know: if I have a writing date I will make a lot of excuses to try to get out of it. I will decide that my sniffle is not allergies but West Nile Virus that requires immediate medical attention. But then I’ll remember that I made a commitment to people (one I vow to never make again) and I’ll drag my ass to the house/coffee shop/Grub Street. Once I’m there and the timer is set I will – very begrudgingly – begin to write. If there’s a prompt I’ll start by writing about how the prompt is stupid. If there’s no prompt I’ll start by writing about how I have nothing to write. But inevitably, after about 15 minutes, I give in and I realize: I am writing.
Sometimes I’ll hit pay dirt and craft a draft that will actually become an article. Other times I might just reap one or two sentences worth keeping. Still it’s something.
But – and here’s the rub – it’s not easy to find other writers to write with. So let Grub Street do it for you. Every month we host a free Grubby write-in at a cafe. You can order coffee or tea. You can be 18 or 80. You can make new friends, or you can not talk to anyone. But you will write.
Join us this Tuesday night – even if you are cranky and uninspired, even if you’ve had a long day at work and the laundry is piling up – fight through those sniffles (it’s not West Nile, I promise), and take a few hours for you: for your art, for your writing. You’ll be in good company.
Kaila Kuban, Ph.D. is an anthropologist interested in youth, class, politics and the use of art in social justice movements. As a new Boston transplant, Kaila spends her days writing at Grub Street, volunteering at 826 Boston, and trying to figure out why people in this city honk so often. You can read her musings on creativity, media, culture and life at www.kailakuban.com. Follow her on twitter @doctak.