Saturday, August 21, 2010

Show up. Sit down. Do the Work. By Erica Jamieson

Erica Jamieson writes short fiction and creative non-fiction. She is working on finishing her first novel among other projects. Her work has appeared in Self Magazine,, and in small press literary magazines. She is a contributor to the monthly Isaian Magazine and oversees a blog for her monthly writing group,  She also sporadically updates her own blog about weight and food at  But above all else she is a reader. Erica moderates book groups with the goal of experiencing the intention of the author rather than focusing on what is good, what is bad. Her favorite is her daughter’s seventh grade book group that meets monthly out of school.  There are new avid generations of readers abounding in this wildly webbed world and it is wonderful.

Show up. Sit Down. Do the work.
By Erica Jameison

I have this recurring day dream.  In an eclectic coffee shop, I am hunched over my Macbook, espresso cooling on the table, toe tapping in rhythm to fingers typing at warp speed.  Suddenly, there is a person, could be man, could be woman, it matters little.  We talk about my work.  By the end of the next cup of coffee I have a patron, champion for my craft.  A heroic angel who facilitates my every artistic need. I am given a key to a wooded hideaway where I can work uninterrupted. The fridge is always stocked full with sparkling water and plates of sliced cucumbers.  Somewhere in this day dream (recurring mostly at about three p.m. weekdays) my carpooling and lunch making responsibilities wane.  I no longer have to grocery shop.  And then, my work, like well fertilized rosemary, blossoms and grows wildly.

It is so much easier to imagine the work already done than to sit down and actually do the work.  I know.  I am queen of resistance.  I can sit down at my desk only to remember that dirty fork in the sink, and well, I certainly can’t work with a messy house.

Part of my resistance comes from bad planning, lack of keeping to a schedule, allowing the world at large to take precedence over my work.  Hence the need for a patron, someone other than me who believes I am a writer. Left to my own devices, I have my doubts.

Because the other piece of my resistance is the answer to the question what do you do?  It took me twenty years to say I write.  And yet, I still qualify that by saying I am an emerging writer. Emerging?  What does that mean? To materialize.  Develop.  Arrive.  Oh, to arrive as fully developed writer, now wouldn’t that be truly something?

But does a writer ever really arrive?  I have files of story ideas, conception ideas, novel starts and stops.  Is it simply because I am still awaiting some sort of gilded credential to the professional writer’s club that keeps me from finishing?

Zoe Klein, who had her first novel, Drawing in the Dust, published last summer always wanted to be a writer but it was her father who helped her define the term.  He is a sculptor and a teacher.  Some students beguile themselves with an image of being an artiste, he might tell his daughter, while others show up everyday to work at their craft.  Zoe Klein understood this disparity and despite, or because of, her insane schedule, (head rabbi of a reform temple in Los Angeles, mother of three), she showed up everyday to do the work, to write.

In The War on Art by Steven Pressfield the ideal professional writer is described not by the ability to support oneself from writing but by showing up each day, taking oneself serious, doing the work regularly. Like your neighborly insurance agent, or the man who bags your groceries or the bank teller.  They don’t wake to a dirty fork in the sink, or feel the rain in their bones, or get dissuaded by compromised confidence.  Instead they leave the fork, grab an umbrella and head to the office.  It’s the only way the work gets done.  Pressfield says a professional writer must do the same thing.  Show up, sit down, do the work.

For me that was an enlightening message.  To digest the fact that there is no spatial moment of arriving.  There is only the work.

In the midst of my cleaning frenzy, I finally paused long enough to ask if a writer writes than what was I doing standing at the doorway to my office staring at an empty desk holding a basketful full of folded whites.

Instead of more excuses, I showed up at the four corners of my computer screen.  I allowed my lack of confidence, my emerging sensibilities to dictate rewrite after rewrite.  I coerced myself to stay and write.  To do the work.  Slowly this essay came into being.  I guess you could say it emerged from simply showing up.

And then a thought began to take root.  I am my own angelic champion, patron of my writing because I am not an emerging writer.  I am simply emerging.


Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I adore this post, Erica, especially since i am sitting down to write this morning, but getting up just as much. You have such a charm to your persona. Thank you for sharing on The Bird Sisters. I can do relate to your dilemmas!

Karen said...

Exposing our self-deceptions is wonderful and powerful. Congratulations Erica and thank you for the wonderful reminder :-)

Robin Antalek said...

Over the years, but especially since publishing my first novel, the question I get most is: how do you do it? And truthfully, the answer escapes me. There isn't a roadmap worth following -- oh sure, you can teach structure, pacing, dialogue, plot --yet in the end you just have to get your butt in the chair and be willing to keep it there even when the work is less than stellar. Eventually something beautiful comes along that makes you want to keep writing more-- and that's the magic.
Thanks for a great post!

Erica Jamieson said...

If it weren't for my self deceptions I'm not sure I'd have anything to muse about! Thanks so much Karen, Robin and Rebecca for your positive comments! It's so much easier NOT to write, isn't it??? And yet so wonderful to write! And I love that the dialogue, particularly among women, about writing is so inspirational. Thank you!!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

It is so much easier, sometimes, not to write. This morning, I am plugging away happily though. Someone on She Writes left a comment on the Group Mother Writer, for you Erica. She was talking about writing before having children and writing after. She quoted Anne Lamott, who I love: “I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."