The Red Couch: Writing Down the Bones Discussion

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N_RED-COUCHI swim in a sea of irony, I’m certain.

When my friend Leigh asked our Red Couch Team for a creative post on Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I replied with a hearty, Yes! Having never read the book nor obtained a copy, my insides remained chipper for the chance to belong; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Eager for involvement and desperate for recognition, I didn’t anticipate reading a book that, at the time, found me far from actual subject matter.

You see, I’d declared September and October as “Input Only” months. I’d just had a baby: a perfect 8lb 10 ounce boisterous, bouncing boy we call Baby Brother. And babies are good and perfect little creatures–a slice of heaven’s pie, one might say–but through no fault of their own, they can wreak havoc on their mamas with their crying and their pooping and their love of eating breakfast at 3am.

So, in order to save my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I put a moratorium on producing, on writing in particular. The Next Piece of Literary Greatness via the blog and articles for submission could wait, and sermon prep for those Sundays in November would come in due time. My manuscript, the one whose book contract I surely thought I’d be waving in the air by now, could continue to simmer on the back burner … because my baby will only be a baby for so long.

Staring mindlessly at this little being, my little being, is the best writing fodder I can muster. I can stand to not keep up with The Writing Man. I can stand to let myself be.

But then I found myself reading about writing. And it seems to me that the point of writing is to, well, write. Just like the piano scales I plunked out on black and white keys from the fourth grade on through college–C major, C minor, and C diminished, repeat–I knew I wouldn’t become a better pianist if I neglected the often mundane and dreary task of sitting my butt down on the unforgivable wooden bench, again.

And the same goes for writers, for she who calls herself an artist of syllables and words and phrases alike. Who am I to talk about writing if my fingers and my brain and my insides remain rusty from the basic act of creating?

This is where the irony comes in … and this is where I need your help. Because sometimes, with Greatest Grace, we ease ourselves back in: we start at the beginning, and we re-remember how and why the act of putting pen to paper gives us life.

What then do we find at the onset of Natalie Goldberg’s treasure trove? As a whole, her book encompasses a wide range of short writing exercises, tips and lessons she’s learned along the way. And in the third chapter, “First Thoughts,” the author and poet lays out the following six tips about timed writing:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Don’t cross out.
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular.

So, here’s what I say: we put on our brave faces, we do this together. We stop talking about writing, and instead, we start writing again.

Grab a pen, a piece of paper and a timer. Today we’re going to follow Goldberg’s mid-80s direction to a “T” and step away from our computers. Do yourself a favor and read over the six steps again, and then set the timer for 10 minutes. And if you need a word to hone in on, join me where we started: with the word “IRONY.”

Ready? Go.

Ten minutes later…

Because this is a full-disclosure kind of exercise, here’s what I just wrote:

IRONY: I’m 16 years old. Alanis Morisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic?” blasts in my ears at the gym as I pound step after step on the Stairmaster. Because I go there religiously, pounding the pavement over and over again, in an effort to skinny my body. I’m a teenager and little do I know that I’m in the best shape of my life, but regardless I feel fat. Regardless I am one size bigger than I’m supposed to be and somehow I believe that if I can just lose 10 pounds then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll fit in. Then I’ll get the guy. And all of this from the word irony.

The irony of it is that the battle of being still wages within me. Yes, my fourth trimester self still has to practice kindness to her body–her mangled, baby-loved body–time and time again. But the irony exists in that I think if I can just _______ fill-in-the-blank whatever, then I’ll have made it. If I can just learn how to BE and not produce and just take in input! Input! Input! Then I’ll be on the right track … but I’ve missed the point altogether again.

For I’m already there. I’m already exactly where I’m supposed to be, loved wholeheartedly with the simple directive to go and do the same.

The irony is that it’s right in front of me. The irony is that I’m already enough. The irony is that I’ve already made it and I need not keep running amuck on the hamster wheel trying to keep up.

So, when will I actually believe it?

When will I let go of irony’s grip?

It’s easy for me to look at the words I just wrote, quickly becoming my own worst enemy. I can criticize my lack of proper punctuation and overuse of certain words, cringing that I’ve yet to fully embrace my body, even as a Fully Loved, Fully Official Grown-Up.

But even more, I can choose to smile because I wrote simply and solely and purely for the sake of writing.

And all irony aside, that is enough.

___________

I’D LOVE FOR YOU TO SHARE:

If you did the 10-minute free write, will you share a sentence or two with us?

What did you discover about yourself and about your words when you didn’t give your inner editor free reign? 

When you’re in a writing rut–or if you’ve taken a well-deserved break from the sport–how have you gotten back into the game?

REMINDER:

There’s no book selected for next month. Instead, we invite you to fill out a survey starting next Wednesday, Dec. 3. We want to know what you’ve thought about The Red Couch, whether you’ve participated every month or not at all. It’s hard to believe we’ve been reading together for a whole year! On Wednesday, Dec. 10 we’ll announce our 2015 First Quarter Selections.

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Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from Seattle, Washington. Her first book, The Color of Life: A White Woman’s Journey of Legacy, Love and Racial Justice releases with Zondervan in January 2019. She loves a mean bowl of chips and guac, long walks outside, and makes it her goal to dance in the living room every night.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

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