The other day in yoga, the instructor stopped the class to emphasize we were “practicing.” Yoga is a practice. Not a routine, or a class. Or just an excuse to sweat with other people in public in really awkward positions.
I’ve found writing is much the same. I started writing Under the Same Moon when I was 22, freshly working in public health and traveling for the first time to southeastern Africa. I’d always wanted to write novels, but my training for such a career came from nothing more than a degree in journalism, a love of words and an insatiable thirst for reading. Full of naivete, I plowed forward — taking three years to finally produce a draft I was willing to forward for editing. There were many, many drafts of this first novel. Today, it is still far from perfect — with three versions in print. So it goes with writing as a practice.
In moving to Denver six months ago, I heard about a writing cooperative downtown. There were whispers of an old victorian house full of dusty couches, warm coffee pots and tattered yellow pads, scribbled with inspiration. Joining Lighthouse took three months of research. I even drove by before I was willing to walk up the steps past the ornamental lions, and knock on the big glass door.
There is something about being around other writers — taking classes, workshopping the latest draft, swapping painful stories about the critic who wouldn’t shut up — that is wildly intimidating. What if they all wore skinny jeans and Chucks and had agents in New York and dropped names of famous authors and publishers? What if they were all making a living by the might of the pen?
Daunting. This from a woman who once walked up a group of men at a busy bar on a Friday afternoon and joined their table for happy hour because I couldn’t find my friends. They were just dudes in a bar. How bad could it be?
They are just writers in an old house. How scary could it be?
Working at Lighthouse makes being a novelist feel like both a badge of honor and punishment. Novel 1 did well. Some statistic I read said most books published don’t sell 1,000 copies. UTSM has done that and more. Not much more, but still. Friends and family heard about this book for nearly a decade and my community bought it in supportive, lovely droves. There are no promises Novel 2 will see the same generosity.
And yet. Working at Lighthouse is a new community — one of folks who trade opinions on style guides and literary journal submissions. One where my little novel and the progress on a second are applauded for bravery and discipline, not for the strength of my talent. Being in this house for classes, Saturday morning socials, Monday afternoon writing marathons makes me feel at home — even though the cool kids are wearing hipster uniforms and dropping names like they are hot. They make me want to practice. To throw up on the page, see it for what it is, rip it up, start over and do it again and again and again until it is something I want to frame and name my first born in honor of.
So, I’m reading the New Yorker with a clenched jaw and McSweeney’s with delight. I’m entering writing contests. I’m training with those who are much better than me in hopes that their smarts, talents and drive will rub off.
It’s a lot like training at pool with Olympic hopefuls a couple of lanes over. You can’t help but gawk, throw your shoulders back and go like hell.