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An Ounce of Blood

The essayist, Michael Greenberg, was fortunate to have an editor at the Times Literary Supplement in London who knew how to get the best out of a writer. He gave him a specific word count—1200 words—which became a discipline and then told him that no matter what he wrote about, the piece should have a sense of “personal necessity, a sense of urgency.” In other words, it’s more than likely that if we don’t risk spilling our blood, guts and tears onto the page, it probably will be of little interest to us or our readers. We don’t have to be vampires or Dr. Phil to do this. We can be ordinary mortals with a story to tell, some ideas to express, observations to make about life past, present or future, ours or someone elses'. And we begin this work in our journals and notebooks—private, silent spaces for our eyes only.

Carl Jung once told a client that her journal was her “cathedral,” a silent place where her spirit lived. Beginning there—in our journals, notebooks and blogs—we begin to sketch out what may or may not become a printed story to share with others. Our first audience is ourselves, then the workshop, a writer’s group, other readers.

And now having written this little essay, I note that it is mellow in tone but also very detached. I have not talked of myself or spilled my own blood, guts or tears into this entry. That is not to say that I don’t care about what I am writing today; I do, very much. But the subject of notebooks and journals and privacy is a tender one for me, as it is for all writers. I once had my journals and private emails ransacked and it took time to recover, to begin again, to rediscover a rhythm, purpose and sense of safety in my own words, those that belong to me and no one else. After the violation, the subjects I became interested in for my journalism and long form nonfiction shifted ever so slightly and so did I, I shifted too. Unexpectedly, I began writing and publishing poetry and short stories. I lost some friends and found others. I tossed out old journals and started new ones.

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Time To Write

Summer’s end and the earth is shifting away from the sun. Gorgeous sunset last night down by the river. I didn’t even want to read, just watched the glow off the water for more than an hour, the gentle lap of the waves. I was relieved to be away from the computer for a while.

With the start of term, I have a lot to do and I am juggling. A new piece of fiction surfaced as I was traveling and I am working on a newspaper article. My agent has decided she is not interested in handling the revised murder mystery so I have to leave time to market that, tedious work. Resting the mind and the body in the midst of a hectic city life is essential. I’m always in search of quiet spaces and stretches of uninterrupted time to write and in this I’m not alone. Every serious writer I know has the same challenge. And so do my students as they begin my workshop.

I do admit I am slightly envious of writers who have (generic) wives and/or servants, live deep in the country, wake to the light, write all day, swim lunchtime laps in their spring -fed pond (heated in the winter of course) and are invited to sparkling literary salons every evening. These (mostly imaginary) writers never have to clean toilets or shop for groceries or make a living doing anything else but writing.

I have been a professional writer for many years, a working writer, and I still have to juggle. It makes the writing sweeter. It makes it real.

I used to laugh when a fiction writer cousin of mine—of the male gender—told me that he had to get out of the house to write, the kids were disturbing his concentration. Once a year he took off and went to Mexico for a few weeks leaving his professor wife behind to tend the house, the kids, and her own career. That was then, this is now. Times have changed but the imperatives of the writing life have not.
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