Every once in a while, I sit in on a session of writing prompts provided by Nickole Brown and her wife, Jessica Jacobs. Only occasionally, because they’re poetry prompts. And there are wicked-talented professional-level poets who tune in for this group and I feel woefully inadequate to participate most nights. Which is something I need to get over, quite honestly, because I went recently and came out with something that may become a poem – it’s not prose, even now – and I got an idea for a piece of prose, as well. To think of how many nights I’ve allowed myself to be talked out of attending because I tell myself I’m not qualified to attend makes me realize now how much I’m potentially missing out on.
Even more importantly than the writing prompts on May 3, though, Nickole talked about how writers often just don’t write. For more reasons than non-writers might ever imagine. It’s true. When I left my full-time job in my chosen profession as a librarian at Northeast State Community College at the end of January 2013, it was with the idea that I would take off two years to see how writing full-time panned out. I have no idea. Because I’ve never gotten around to writing frequently enough to even come close to writing full-time. Most of the time, I don’t even write enough to be considered a part-time writer. I write when I need to. For a contest, for entry into a seminar or workshop, when a publication deadline looms before me. That’s it. That’s shameful. I’m horrible at setting time aside to write. Or to read, for that matter. And reading is an important part of the writing process, believe it or not. At Hindman’s Appalachian Writers Workshop last Summer, people introduced themselves and told what they do professionally. I found myself saying, “My name is Chrissie Anderson Peters, and I’m a stay-at-home nothing.” My buddy Robert Gipe told me to stop saying that. He’s a good friend. But that’s what I felt like. I felt like a poser, there among people who make time for their writing at times other than just when it’s convenient for them. I have such a luxury – I’m blessed with day after day at home. No children, other than our four felines. No outside employment. No volunteer obligations. Each and every day, a possibility to sit and create whatever comes to mind. I’m forever saying, “Oooh! Wouldn’t that make a great story?!?” And that’s as far as it goes. Because I’m lazy. I just don’t ever write it.
That night in the writing prompt session, Nickole confessed to having sorta burned out about the time the pandemic hit. She said that she asked herself, “If I never wrote another poem, would anybody care?” I’ve been there. Actually, I’ve been there for several years now. I have brief spurts of time when I feel like something I’ve written matters. But for the most part, those feelings are fleeting. Nickole told us a great story about the first time she met a famous author noted for his bluntness. She asked him how he created what he created. He looked her in the eye and replied, “Sit your ass in the chair. Repeat.” And yes, that is exactly what it takes! Over and over. Day after day. The self-discipline to make yourself sit down, take it seriously, and do it. Nickole said that, when she felt like she had come to that point where nothing was happening in her writing, she had to decide to hire herself. If you hire yourself, then you have an actual job that you’re expected to do. And if you don’t do it, then you’re fired. And that means that you have to find something else to do. I’ve been playing around, going to concerts, being a phenomenal fan of many musicians for nine years now. I’ve tried making excuses by saying that I’m living life so I can write about it later. Well, it’s time to write. It’s okay to keep having incredible experiences; I don’t want to stop doing that. But I need to stop putting off trying to capture what I’m living, doing, loving, and thinking as it happens. It’s time to either hire or fire myself as a writer. (And I can tell you straight up: I do not want to go back to a 9-5 job; I have the world at my fingertips, literally – now it’s time to do something about it.)
I need to thank Nickole for the wake-up call. For the call to action. For making me realize that I’m wasting the gift I’ve been given. Not every day is going to yield award-winning material, and that’s okay. It will be nice to have material to draw on, so that I don’t have to start over four times on a piece to submit to Hindman in the final two days before the deadline for manuscripts. I haven’t made it to eight hours a day yet. But I’ve steadily been increasing and putting in at least fifteen minutes daily. It’s a start. I’m making myself available for my thoughts, emotions, and words.