[The following post originally ran in June 2012 on Dr. Ordway’s wonderful Hieropraxis.com.]
“Oh, oh I’m the creep, huh? Well at least I’m honest: I’m stealing this stone. I’m not trying to romance it out from under her.”
So says Danny DeVito’s creepy yet hapless character “Ralph” to Michael Douglas’ less than honorable “Jack” in the 1984 movie classic Romancing the Stone. Although under most circumstances and through most scenes in this film I would not find myself allied with Ralph, he makes a great point in this one instance. While Jack woos, wines, and dines the lovely and naïve Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner) all to get his hands on a priceless treasure (the stone), Ralph is upfront in his thievery and clear about his goal from the get go.
Set aside for a moment the fact that Jack gets the stone (and Joan) in the end, and turns out to be an okay kind of guy. And leave off that Ralph, well, doesn’t turn out so okay in the end. What I want to say is that so often we treat writing like a conniving romance when we’d be better off as an honest thief. We buy pretty cloth-covered blank notebooks and fancy pens, the better to woo the words with. We attend writers’ retreats, clinking wine glasses or hugging coffee mugs over fine chatter about chapbooks and novels we will publish someday.
Much ado about nothing, isn’t it, really? I mean, until we actually put all that aside and actually do it, we have no idea what we’re on about. Even if we have done it before – written poems, novels, memoir, what have you – we have no idea what this next one might demand of us. Not until we begin.
It’s like when I wanted to learn pottery. For over ten years I wanted to learn pottery. I talked about taking a pottery class to whoever might listen. I dreamed about being like Demi Moore in that other 80s film Ghost, throwing a seamless pot over an effortless wheel, getting just enough clay on my arms and face to appear artistic. Then someone finally called me out – my boss. He said, “You’ll never do it. You are a creature of habit.” Crash. The metaphorical pot hit the figurative floor. How dare he.
So I signed up for the very next class I could get into (I’ll show him, I thought). I did make a few nice pieces, but the funny thing is, after taking the class, I never wanted to throw another pot again. The reality hit home. Making pottery is really hard work. My back killed, and the back of my legs, and my forearms. The class – and doing it – gave me a tremendous appreciation for what it takes to make even the simplest bowl. And I now gladly pay a potter for the privilege of drinking from his cup, pouring from her pitcher.
It’s like that with a poem, a novel, a blog post, a white paper even. Talking about it is fun, a bit whimsical, romantic even. It makes us look all visionary and goal-oriented. But the writing is where the work is. And it is called work for a reason. You have to stay up later or get up earlier to find the time to focus. Your eyes get itchy, strained. You might have to get a stronger prescription for your glasses. The lower back is unforgiving and the carpal tunnel unrelenting. You will put your best work out there and no one will notice. Or they will say nasty things about it. Many will choose wisely (as I did with pottery) to pay someone else to suffer for the art.
If you have no choice but obey the call to write, I think you are better off to grab the poem by the throat before it gets away than try to woo it with procrastinating banter. Romance may work in the movies, but the real work of writing requires a thief willing to go the distance.