Why I am Smiling While Holding A Hermaphrodite Fish/The Challenge of Writing

I'm really glad to be back in Birmingham after a non-stop week of shooting. Yes, I was in the Keys, and it was great, but we went for six days straight, without taking a break. Well, I did take a minute to commune with a Hogfish, and that was pretty fantastic:

How to hold a hogfish Slimy


You can't tell that I'm exhausted and a little bruised from carrying my suitcases from hotel to hotel. (I've figured out why I always have a bruise on a certain part of my leg -- it's where the suitcase hits while I'm dragging it through airports and into rental cars.) But it's all worth it when one gets to meet a hermaphrodite fish like this little beauty (the Hogfish actually switches genders, which is fascinating, no?)

It never fails that despite how tired I am, the best story or image is right around the corner, and totally worth pushing myself to get it. So yes, that's genuine joy here, despite the fact that I was completely freaked out holding said slimy, freaky fish. The story is always worth it. 


That said, I'm glad to be home, and home for a few weeks. There's a lot of work to be done here too, things that are difficult to do on the road. Life does not run itself, and there's a stack of mail to be sorted through, a home office that needs to be organized, parent-teacher conferences and yes, the business of writing and editing (which is a consuming task -- sometimes all-consuming -- in its own right). Just putting all of that down makes me wonder if I should commit to a project that I've been thinking about for November -- National Novel Writing Month. Still on the fence.

I struggle at times because, despite the gift of writing full-time for the magazine, I'm plum tapped out when it comes time for my personal work. In the past couple of years there have been hours and hours of obsessing over genre. When I take a break from that brain treadmill and sit down to actually just put some words on paper already, they do come out. Essays? Blog posts? The beginning of fiction? Not sure, but each word is a start, even if no one sees it. I just have to get out of my own way and start.


This morning I read an essay by Ann Patchett, a Southern writer whom I admire. Called "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life," it's about the practical business of writing.  In it, she writes about how people come up to her all the time and ask her to write their story -- it's so good but they just don't have the *time* to do it. (She goes on to gracefully but firmly indicate that it's not just time -- not everyone has a great work of writing in them, as one woman once insisted to her.)

Her lessons are timeless: you must write your own story, you must devote time and discipline. Even then, the very, very talented may not make it. And yes, writing is difficult for everyone, which is why most people only keep their stories in their head. That ain't writing. That's life.

Or, she so eloquently puts it:

‎"Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of our imagination for the stark disappointment of words."

I highly recommend this read (and at $2.99, it's a steal.)

Patchett says that there's no lack of ideas and experiences. I'm lucky to get to have a lot of the latter. My challenge is owning my own words, putting them on paper after all of the other duties are finished. I like challenges. I love writing stories.

Keep me to it, will you? 

Related Links:

Golden Air: A Renewed Commitment To Writing  

Washington Post: Writers on Writing