If you’ve ever dove off a cliff into a lake, you know the most terrifying moment isn’t when you’re safe on the ground looking down, it’s the moment after you’ve stepped off the ledge and you think, oh, shit, I hope I don’t hit a rock. Then the water rushes as you plunge down to it and you hit and sink and pray. Writing is like that. Confession: recently I’ve questioned who I am as a writer and if I have the chops and want to do this job.
At Goddard we read masters of writing and hope to emulate, not their words, but how they accomplished what they did. We dug in the white spaces between the lines. We read Borges, Calvino, Homer, or Kingston with the hopes that their writing mojo would rub off on us. We read and reread and absorb the words on the page as if books were nourishing morsels of life-sustaining energy. We stepped out of the real world and onto the shaky ground of our minds, never knowing if what came out would be gourmet or dog food. We prayed to the muses:
Come to me and grant me all you will.
And then we decide that praying isn’t enough – we had to don our t-shirts and yoga pants and get to work. Creating isn’t easy. We pressed on because we were not worriers, we were writers. We sat at desks and stared at bland pages. We sat at library tables ignoring thousands of voices emanating from the stacks that whispered, who are you to be among us? They challenged us with whispers. We stood at tables in coffee houses and typed on laptops attempting magic. We practiced everything we thought we knew.
In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler wrote, “At the core of every artist is a sacred place where all rules are set aside or deliberately forgotten, and nothing matters but the instinctive choices of the heart and soul of the artist” (xvii).
During my time at Goddard, my heart and soul measured my writing and came up wanting.
I did what any reasonable writer who lives among the clouds would do—I tucked into my work. But I couldn’t just press on, something had shaken me to my core and I had to figure out what and why. I read. I wrote. I read some more. I wrote more. My journal hated me.
When you have a lot on your plate, the universe has a way of piling on even more. Things happen to complicate life until I felt weighted down by life itself. I questioned if I could really do it. Who the heck was I to write a novel?
And then at three in the morning one night as I trolled Pinterest, I ran into a website: NerdFitness. The Muse had spoken. I read article after article on people whose lives were changing because they embraced their nerdiness and wanted to live their lives to the fullest. A self-proclaimed nerd, I signed up for the Rebellion. And then I booked a train trip around the country. And it changed my writing life.
My writer’s journey ran the gauntlet of Amtrak stations—from Tacoma, I traveled south to Sacramento, and then northwest to Chicago, and took an overnight into Erie, PA.
Have you ever been three days without internet?
At the edge of civilization there exists a place between the line of houses and nature where signals do not reach. I was blessed to be there. At the core of my journey was a question: is this writing thing still in my soul, and if so, what was I going to do about it?
Nothing mattered on the trip but the question and the search for the answer.
Somewhere between Colorado and Illinois, my computer died. I wrote on paper, and when that was full, I wrote on napkins with borrowed pens.
I didn’t have the answer when I pulled into Erie. I did have the number for a computer whiz, but even he doubted my computer could be saved. Still, he managed to nudge it along.
I drove south, heading to a small town near Pittsburg to pick up Chris Weigand, my writing friend, and we continued on to Vermont where we enjoyed four days at a writer’s retreat. I didn’t write there. Instead, I focused on the question and spent days pouring into a journal my deepest thoughts.
Then my computer died. Again. Luckily I had enough foresight to back it up, but this was a major chain in my life. I go through computers like most people go through books. I love tech, but tech doesn’t love me. So I wrote by hand.
The feeling of the pen in my hand, gliding along the page, led to another state of consciousness where I was one with the page. I haven’t had meditation moments like that before with writing, and it’s something I continue to strive toward. I hit a space in my mind where I agreed that yes, I was a writer—a real writer. A forever-no-matter-what writer. And I was going to finish this damn thing [aka the Thesis] regardless of what it took to accomplish it.
Days after I left, I was back in Erie, and I had another muse moment. Time after time I kept hitting the zen-space of writing. I didn’t want it to stop. On the train ride from Erie to Chicago, I had a tiny roomette, the old-fashioned ones from the last century that still have the toilet in them so you bang your leg on the toilet when you sit and your elbow on it when you’re sleeping. I know they’re older because no one fits in those rooms, especially not me, but I told myself it was part of the adventure, so suck it up. And in the middle of the night as the train swayed, I hit the high moment we all aspire to in writing. I knew something magical was going on. But it was a half-sleep moment and the only thing that’s decipherable in my journal from that night was “believe in yourself” and “find the amulet of light.” The first was to me and the second to my character.
In Chicago’s Union Station I sat in the corner of the Legacy Club, scribbling on my pad of paper. I’m sure I looked obsessed to the lawyer who kept making privileged phone calls and talking to clients. I’m sure some of his language found its way into my writer’s notebook. Then, somewhere between the lawyer and scribbles, I ran out of paper. I scribbled on notecards and when they ran out, I scribbled on napkins. I boarded the train to head to Seattle and I wrote, covering two notebooks.
As the train passed somewhere in North Dakota, it began to snow. And with the snow came an idea. It was a small idea, but it grew and became the massive outline I have on my wall. I’m re-writing my book again, focusing on craft. I will not give up. Nor should you. Trust your instinct. Find your writer muse and, heaven help me, trust it when they say “trust the process.” Who the hell are we to challenge the universe? We’re writers.
Darlene Reilley is a fiction writer and graduated from Goddard College with an MFA in 2017. Her thesis, The Divantinum Project, is the first of a YA science fiction trilogy about a half-earthling, half-alien Goddess who has amnesia. For inspiration, check out 1,001 Writing Prompts to Get You Started available at Amazon.