Write like a motherfucker

© Danner

I LOVE how you manage to swear like a Liverpool Docker at the same time as casting endearments about like a spinster aunt. You’re one of the best people I know!

This email from a dear friend is pinned on the cork board in my office. This same friend knows my penchant for colourful language and correctly guessed my delight when she shared with me the brilliant Dear Sugar Advice Column #48. She does this kind of thing, this friend – she turns up at the perfect times with the perfect words. In this case, with a quick email recently, have you come across this article? Or, Holly, write like a motherfucker.

In August 2010, Elissa Bassist, 26-year-old creative nonfiction MFA student, wrote a letter to “Sugar”, The Rumpus’s popular online advice columnist.

I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness. […] How do I reach the page when I can’t lift my face off the bed? How does one go on, Sugar, when you realize you might not have it in you? How does a woman get up and become the writer she wishes she’d be?
– Elissa Bassist

“Sugar”, revealed in February 2012 to be Cheryl Strayed, author of bestselling memoir Wild, replied with what must be some of the best writing advice ever given, describing story as the ‘second heart’ pulsing in our chests.

“Writing is hard for every last one of us — straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

“Write Like a Motherfucker” — has since blazed tshirts and coffee mugs alike. It’s used not just as a rally cry in writing courses and workshops around the world, but as a slogan for creativity in general. Substitute ‘write’ with your artistic expression of choice, and the sentiment speaks directly to those things we desire most deeply for our lives but put off or neglect out of fear, shame, and resentment.

After reading Elissa and Sugar’s conversation a couple of times, I went out for a run. As I ran through discomfort, cold muscles, and tiredness, impatient to hit my stride and waiting for endorphins to kick in, parts of their conversation circled through my mind. I was so aborbed in my thoughts I didn’t realise how far I’d run until I passed through the old wrought iron gates of a favourite park near my house. At its centre is a heart-shaped lake in the middle of which is an island, lush with oak, ash, and plane trees and wild laburnum bushes. Throughout the year it is a place white swans and herons flock to and dot the island like stars. In short it’s a fairtytale amidst urbanville. I have run the circumference of the lake’s heart through all four seasons, when it has been frozen solid or on days like today when it’s a molten pool. As I trace the edges of it with my footsteps I try to do so with awareness, intention, and my ears open. I run there to listen. I tend to run there when I need an answer.

As I ran – pushing through discomfort, eventually noticing my body warming up, thinking about Sugar’s advice – I understood: just as in running, creativity is an act of surrender.
A wild, brave act of surrender.
Of letting go.
Listening to instinct and just putting one word, or brush stroke, or note, or photo, or foot, in front of another.
Telling yourself you can, telling yourself you’re possible.
Committing yourself to whatever you need to do to get yourself home.
Being bold enough to make your own way there.
To pull your own second heart out and reveal its contours.
To follow the line of your story.

Away from the lake, heading home, I ran feeling alive, vulnerable, and exhausted. As I rounded my street corner where I tag the trunk of the old oak and sprint to my driveway, despite burning legs and screaming lungs, I chanted in my mind a different war cry, my favourite line from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Courage, dear heart.

As I heaved for breath, I pondered the line between suffering and serenity. I lay on the grass to cool down and watched the clouds scud across the clear sky. One looked like an elongated, bearded fisherman complete with pipe. My favourite Hemmingway quote whispered beside him. Write hard and clear about what hurts. Isn’t this the way? Our heads are always swirling with the answers we know to be true – but do we listen? Paired with another timeless question: why are we our own saboteurs? Why are we our own worst enemies when it comes to going after what we love the most? A lone white feather waited for me on my doorstep. I picked it up, my head pounding.

Fear is a destructive fucker.

Now, back at my desk with said white feather waving like a peace flag, two questions hover in my mind.

What is the centre of your story?
What are the contours of your second heart?

Dear Sugar.
I am down low and humble.
I am learning.
I am trying.
I am scared.

This week, my seventh of The Artist’s Way, I’m focusing on recovering a sense of connection in my work, which has has involved taking creative risks for risk’s sake, being imperfect, listening deeply, and being willing to go inside to the sore place, to my centre, and run along its edges. One foot, one thought, and one word after another.

I realized that if I truly wanted to write the story I had to tell, I would have to gather everything within me to make it happen. I would have to sit and think of only one thing longer and harder than I thought possible. I would have to suffer. By which I mean work.
– Cheryl Strayed

Though creating is work, and work is hard, I don’t want to lose my perspective of why I do it. I don’t want to forget what connects me to it, what drives me to my desk every day, what occupies most of my mind during waking hours.
It is of course, love.
Rather than turn up at my writing desk in my pyjamas this week I’ve fronted up in polka dots and red lips. I drank my morning coffee from a martini glass, and worked to a roaring twenties soundtrack. What a lesson to re-learn.

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It is an unquestionably terrifying thing, tracing the edges inside to find that second pulse and create from its centre. But as Sugar so piercingly and eloquently explains the harder and more frightening thing, is not.

So. Here we are. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be one of the hardest things. We’re going to loathe and love ourselves every day. But would we have it any other way? Let’s create like motherfuckers.

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