What I Write About When I Write about Writing
Horses, Murakami, Rabbits and Routine.
Or, What I Write About When I Write about Writing
By Erna Adelson
I’ve been asked to write something that will inspire other creative types as they enter a new year. Something about what keeps me creative. My resolutions. This is how I quickly learn why writers dread writing about writing. The truth is that my resolutions every year are the same: read, write, ride. That’s all, every year.
Still, I diligently come up with some ideas:
“Of Writing and Riding” for example.
Perhaps I can expound on my lifelong obsession with horses, I think, and how my consistency as a rider has been imperative to my life as a creative person in this world. Writing and riding are two things that I’ve done since I was conscious of wanting to do things, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that supported both habits. Inevitably, I am drawn to stories that revolve around horses and riders. I have a section of my bookshelf dedicated to horse books. “Writing” and “riding,” are phonetically similar, and often I must clarify to others which of the things I’m doing. “I’m riding today” sounds like “I’m writing today.” A day in which I do both is ideal.
I am not currently a competitive rider, although I think that my past experience in training and shows has helped to prepare me for a writer’s life, that is: a life of being watched critically, figuring out how to persuade an audience (or an animal) that they want to jump over hurdles with you, failing often (biting dust, literally) sometimes very publicly, then getting back on the horse. You always get back on the horse. Plus, riding is the most fun you’ll ever have and it’s exercise for the body and brain - non negotiable, in my opinion, to the creative process.
But what about those who didn’t grow up falling off of sneaky ponies? I think.
I order Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” for some insight. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.
Another thought: “The Importance of Being Boring”
Maybe, I suppose, I can write 500 words on the advice I got from Smith Henderson, author of “Fourth of July Creek,” when I took his class at the Los Angeles-based Writing Pad. “I’m just...kind of boring,” I told him. “I have a pretty drama-free life.” I was worried that this wouldn’t lend itself to good writing. “That’s good! You need to be boring!” He exclaimed. He was very enthusiastic about it!
With those words, Smith Henderson gave me permission to embrace my ordinary existence, including my job in advertising, for providing me the security, the health insurance, and the routine around which I would write my more “artistic” work. “You need to have routine, because most of writing is just sitting there writing. You need this time in your life to write! And you need the health insurance!” he said. (Ok, I added that last part, but I find it to be true). My advertising work and my more personal work both improved after that conversation. This year, I will share that wisdom: it’s important to the creative process to be ok with being boring! And, make money so that you can take classes! I’ve taken classes at UCLA Extension, Writing Pad, Improv for the People, and Westside Comedy Theater.
I need to find a good template for writing about writing, I realize.
I recall an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin, detailing a week spent at Hedgebrook, a women-only writing colony in the woods of Washington state. It was included in an anthology of her work published in 2016 called “Words Are My Matter.” I scan my bookshelf and find the book. There is a pull quote on the cover: “Hard times are coming...We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.” How applicable.
I find the essay, titled “The Hope of Rabbits: A Journal of a Writer’s Week.” It was written over the week of April 20-26, 1994 when Le Guin was invited by the organizers of Hedgebrook to stay in one of the cabins and record her activities. She spends her time dreamily: writing the first draft of a short story (longhand) reading Clifford Geertz (she finds him pompous) and Claude Levi-Strauss (whom she prefers), rising at dawn, and, among other things, studying the rabbits that frequent her corner of the Hedgebrook woods. “The rabbits use the paths,” she writes. The rabbits use the paths. “Should wild things use paths?” she asks. “But after all they make their own so why not use ours.” I would now like to go to a writer’s retreat and meet some path-using rabbits so that the next time I write about writing, I, too, can write about rabbits.
After touring the grounds of Hedgebrook - the farm, berry bushes, root cellar, the greenhouse, Le Guin concludes: “Oh money, what wonders you perform (and how rarely are you so well-spent).” Another wry observation about how to live as a creative in this world. (Never mind the retreat. Now I’d like a huge sum of money so that I can establish an animal sanctuary slash writing colony. Somewhere woodsy).
I decide that I shall write about writing in diary entry format, as honestly as possible, as Le Guin did. It will be more meandering than a neat listicle, but what I hope to convey is this: creatives need consistency, time to be boring and time spent in nature. If you can give yourself that, you’re in for a good year. And if you’re really consistent and really boring, maybe you’ll also be fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of rabbits.