The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Friday, August 29, 2008


A Broken-Hearted Writer Who Dreams of Better

A friend called me a “three-quarter girl.” 

“What?!?” I said. “What does that even mean?”

“It means,” she said, drinking a sip of water, “that you get almost all the way done with your writing assignments and then walk away from them.” She took a breath as if it had taken her some courage to say this, and then her eyes flashed and she smiled at me as if daring me to say otherwise.  “I see it. I got your number.”

I thought for a minute.  Any casual observer would not call me a three-quarter girl. I have a string of accomplishments, and I am often rigidly compunctual in order NOT to leave things undone.  But I know the truth. I know how panic sets in when I pass the halfway mark. I know how I have to talk myself through the finish line as if I were in a control tower guiding an airplane flown by a sixteen-year old pilot to a forced landing on a foreign runway in the dark.

Where does this anxiety come from? 

I have had it all my life.

In college I wrote a poem called “The Mediocre Midwife,” in which I bemoan my lack of diligence and attention to my own creative process.  The work I bring to life is only half done, and I, the midwife, am to blame for not persisting through the whole birthing process.  

There is a stanza in which I compare myself to an alchemist:


                        I am a half-ass alchemist,

                        an alky,

                        who falls back,


                        Ready to retire

                        as the first glimmer of gold


                        from the lumps of clay and fire.

 Looking back, I think the poem is not bad -- but I never finished it.

 “You have to finish things," my friend went on. "Just to learn how to do them.”

 I am so scared as she is talking that I can barely breathe.

I have noticed that when something I write starts to please me, I begin to think that every line has to be better than the one before it. 

I grind to a halt.

I tell my friend that.

She listens. “It’s going to suck?” she said.

“What is?” 

“Everything! The writing. The ending. The fact that nothing is as good as you think it's going to be. And then one day -- something is. And the next day -- it isn’t again.”

She went on.

“But you have to keep going through it. It’s a numbers game. You have to write your one-hundred crappy essays to learn how to write a single good one.”

I think for a minute about the piano. I am learning as an adult, at almost 40, to play. I am teaching myself. 

I suck.

I am no musical genius. But I love it, and I will sit down at the piano for HOURS just to learn how to move my fingers that way. 

I will never be famous, and my friends listen to me for about five minutes before they start talking amongst themselves.

So why do I practice over and over?  Why am I drawn daily to the piano, working on sight-reading, beat, rhythm, chords? 

Because I will never be brilliant at it so it does not scare me.

I wonder how good my writing would be if I devoted even half the time to it that I spend on the piano.

Do I really think I am a brilliant writer?  Some days, I think I could be. Except for the small matter that I am not. 

It is that interplay between the possible and the real that catches me every time. It’s conceivable a piece might be remarkable. Oh, please. Please don’t let it not be. I couldn’t bear the disappointment.

Maybe I better walk away before my heart breaks from yearning.

By Lianna McSwain

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This hits its mark. I have the same problem -- and it takes so many reminders to keep going.

Keep writing,
Oh, Lianna, too true. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and post a copy of my favorite quote by Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille. Not too long for this format, I hope.

"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open. No artist is ever pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.

There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

--Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

--Samuel Beckett
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