Axe sharpening . . .

I was introduced to Ecclesiastes 10:10 the other day—Using a dull axe requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.

The verse was used in the context of faith, how it can be easy to go through the motions, to seem fine when really you’re discouraged and struggling. How instead of taking strength, joy and peace from your faith, sometimes clinging to it can seem like drudgery. The speaker went on to talk about how to sharpen your blade and the importance of doing so.

I appreciated the message and felt the verse applied to a lot aspects of life—relationships, jobs, writing. Almost everything in life, no matter how passionate we are about it, has seasons where continuing on just feels like work, where we wonder if what we seek is actually attainable, where we question whether there is anything special or valuable in what we’re trying to hold on to…

If you’re like me (and since you’re probably a writer reading this blog before getting to down to work, I suspect you are), you’re no stranger to hard work. You’re used to sitting down whether you’re inspired or not and putting words on the page. You’ve steeled yourself against rejection. You will keep wielding your axe because it’s what you need to do—and let’s face it, in the end, a dull axe does the same job as a sharp one. And for that pragmatic attitude and ethic, we should be congratulated. We rock!

Thankfully, not every writing session fit the description above—far from it. We know flow. We’ve embraced the muse. Had those wonderful times when the stories and thoughts in our heads pour out faster than we can type, those moments when we finally glance at the clock we can’t believe that we’ve been writing for hours and we still feel so energized. All is right in the world. All is right in our heads. We are writers; we pour our inky-hearts out on paper—we rock!

I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, persevere when the work is hard and it’s all sweat and fear. But yes, double-yes!—seek those things that remind you that writing is your passion, that make your time spent at the computer less like hacking and more running a warm blade through butter that has fresh bread waiting for it.

Here are a few of the things that sharpen my blade and make me feel that I’ll burst with contentment because I get to write: Spending time with my opera-singer sister and laughing about the angst of the artist’s life. Keeping close contact with writing friends, through e-mail and an online forum. Reading good books. Writing things that are just for me, like poetry. Doing writing exercises and taking “no pressure” classes and workshops—and, maybe ironically, giving workshops. Playing outside, rain, snow, or shine. Making sure I have do-absolutely-nothing slouch time. And (again, perhaps ironically) writing through those uninspired dull-hatchet times.

Have a wonderful writing week, fellow axe-wielders! And if you have time to share, I’d love to know: What sharpens your blade?

Pen caving . . .

I’m sorry there was such a long time between my last post and this one. I was off gallivanting for much of July and all of August, but don’t worry, I kept busy, doing NO WRITING AT ALL. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t write. *Anything. Perhaps that seems a weird admission from a writer who calls her blog, “Write here, write now,” and uses most posts to thump the drum: write daily, write regularly, don’t get out of practice, write, write, write . . .

I wasn’t just being a slacker, however. And it wasn’t that I kept meaning to write, but got too busy and didn’t get around to it. My four-week hiatus was intentional. Once a year or so, I take some time off from writing (this year’s 4-weeks was a bit extreme, and I don’t think I’ll ever go that long again). I find the break beneficial for a number of reasons, the biggest being that not being allowed to write makes me want to nothing but write. By the time I let myself back to it, I’m a bit crazy in my eagerness and the words flow and flow–which brings me to a weird phenomenon.

Sometimes in the middle of feeling, thinking, observing and ruminating “face-to-face” with an event, person, or moment, I find myself slightly removed, watching with my psychic pen in hand, wondering even as I experience something how I will write about it.

It’s not a bad thing. It might even intensify living in the moment, forcing me to really note the small details and nuances, similar to how going for a walk with a camera in tow makes you focus on the millions of tiny details that make up the “big picture.” The view you have and even think you appreciate in a cursory glance suddenly becomes deeply intricate and profound.

This slightly strange, constantly penning side of my brain grew louder and louder the longer I denied it a paper outlet, and I was fascinated by a growing awareness of parallels between various adventures I was having and my writing life.

At no time was this kinship more dramatic or clear than when I was caving in Horne Lake. Yes, caving. As in burrowing deep into the earth via rocky tunnels and winding, blacker-than-black channels into surprisingly wide caverns and the like.

My obsession with caves (and writing) started when I was young; I blame Mark Twain. While I loved Tom Sawyer (of course) and could never understand his passion for insipid Becky Thatcher, I adored Huck Finn. And the descriptions of the caves he got to explore (where Injun Joe lived for a long while) always threw me into paroxysms of jealousy. Why couldn’t I live in a cave? Why couldn’t I at least live near caves? Second only to sunken treasure, caves were the top of my romantic-things list.

Fast forward to holiday planning 2009. As I investigated interesting things we could if we got tired of Rathtrevor Beach or jumping off small cliffs into Englishman River (which would never happen, but it was nice fun to see all the things the Island offers), I came across ads promoting Horne Lake caves. Real caves. Twisty, freaky, creepy, awesome ones.

We knew we were leaving the surface before we even entered the cave; the change in temperature is immediate and complete, even just at the mouth. Squeezing through crevices that put off the claustrophobic, we ended up in strange room after strange room (there were even, I swear, platformed layers in various nooks and crannies that would’ve made perfect sleeping quarters!). I was almost giddy with the knowledge of how much there was to explore (so much that I suspect no one could ever get through all of it). It didn’t matter that other people were doing the same thing, sometimes in the same area–caves are unique through each person’s eyes, imagination, fears, and purpose. I felt completely alone and cut off–in a delicious, adventuresome way at times. In a slightly awed, fearful way at others–what have I got myself into? Can I get myself out?

The light from our headlamps (and from any others in the caves, though for the most part my son and I were alone and even went our own separate ways a few times) shone in single narrow beams, the inside of the earth being so dark, so void of light that it seemed to devour the rays we tried to cast. I could see only as far ahead as I could shine the light directly. But it was enough. For fun (???), we turned off our lights and tried to figure out where to go next, how to get out of a particular spot, by feel. Worms of panic squirmed occasionally–what would we do if our lamps went out? Or if we turned them off and they wouldn’t turn back on? The answer was simple and obvious: we would get out the same way we came in. Step by step, hand-over-hand. We’d close our eyes, so the dark would feel like a choice, and move by thoughtful gut, prodding the air ahead with hand and foot, making sure a steady hold waited for us. Eventually we’d make it through.

The terrain of the caves was captivating and varied: by turns rough and jagged, alternatively smooth and rounded, like mounds of mud rolled down in layers. Deceptively soft looking. Bone dry in parts, sweating beads of moisture in others–and in still others, crystal clear pools glimmered with reflections when your light happened to touch upon them. Often, but no less delightful for the frequency, the glow from my headlamp would bounce against seemingly black, dense stone only to have it light up and sparkle like it was dusted in stars. The phenomena, I think it’s actually called “cave glitter,” brought to mind those writing sessions where you go in feeling blah, sure that your project is a full flop, only to get ten minutes into working and realize that you have idea after idea.

Yes, my writing life is like exploring caves in every way. Exhilarating. Intimidating. Sometimes fear-invoking. Challenging. Revealing. Often I can see no further in a story than to the end of a line. I know I have to accept the necessity of feeling my way around in the dark. I am continually amazed by the depths and diversity I discover. And just like I can’t wait to do more spelunking, I’m excited to be back in the cavern of my office, climbing through the gnarl of passageways, dead ends, and mysterious spaces that make up my writing. And my head. 😉

I hope you had a great summer–and whether you took a conscious break to “fill the well” as Julia Cameron calls it, or wrote ferociously, making the most of longer days, I hope you’re feeling inspired and itchy to do some keyboard caving of your own.

I’d love to hear about the types of non-writing activities you feel work as analogies for your writing life.

~ Ev

*Okay, with two exceptions. (1) My family and I have a camping journal that we take on trips and leave randomly about the campsite, cabin, or hotel room. Throughout our vacation, we take turns jotting down memorable moments/thoughts. But this year, I reined myself in even there and wrote entries in keeping with everyone else’s, so two. Under a page each. (2) I did work required to keep my business afloat, of course. For me, limiting myself to those few things is not writing. 🙂