Saturday, August 1, 2009

words on paper

In May and June I started telling close friends and family that I was going to write a book this year. This next year. Meaning this next school year. I will have time to write then, I thought. Time to write a book that might not be spectacular or publishable but will be written nonetheless.

Through the month of July, I thought about this book I am going to write. I thought about when I should actually start writing this book and what it should be about. Memoir? Novel? Short story or essay collection? Did I have to have to know what my book was about before I could write it? Should I just start?

And now it is August. Eeps.

When I was in college I spent a couple of semesters leading a poetry writing workshop at a juvenile detention center. This was a great experience that ended horribly and maybe someday I'll tell that story too. But the guys that I worked with showed a lot of raw emotion in their poems and sometimes I'd get home and cry because what they wrote made me sad or angry or feel very hopeless. I enjoy teaching poetry but not always as much as I did then because once in my own classroom, I found that a lot of students were more concerned with whether or not this poetry exercise had a point value attached. Meaning: was it really worth doing? The guys at the detention center weren't like that. They earned the privilege of attending the Sunday afternoon sessions and if a writing exercise didn't work well for them they didn't freak out about their grade or grow apathetic and scrap the whole stupid idea of writing a poem.

Early on in my Sundays, a few of the guys were having a difficult time with the writing exercises. I might say, "Let's come up with a concrete image of Anger or Love or Sad." And they'd write a bit but weren't sure if they were doing it right. "Don't worry about being 'right,'" I'd say. Then one Sunday afternoon a young man read what came out of a ten minute freewrite. "It's just words on paper!" he said. And that became our refrain. At any given time on those Sunday afternoons, one of us might say, "Hey, it's just words on paper." That made the whole business of actually writing something seem manageable.

So that is what my book is, at least right now. It's words on paper. It is just writing it out, getting it down - in my notebooks, typed on my laptop. The whole idea of writing a book seems much more manageable if I think of it as just words on paper.

But even so, those words won't write themselves.

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