Sunday, July 31, 2011

Take Pleasure in Each Step of Writing

The title of this post will have everybody shaking his or her head. “Rewriting is not pleasurable for me,” thinks one person. “I don’t like to write outlines,” says another. Yet a third will mutter, “I’d do anything not to have to delete all my adverbs and find stronger verbs.”

Mary Jane’s post two weeks ago about never again seeing a butterfly made me think of a powerful book that changed my life. Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender is wonderful. I read this book in the early ‘90’s and its lessons have stuck with me.

Bender is an artist among other things. Her lifestyle is unconventional. She left her small children and her husband to live for a year with an Amish family in the countryside of Pennsylvania to find her “inner self.” She was drawn to the Amish because of the colors used in and the beauty of quilts they sew and wanted to be inspired. She learned much more than how to create beautiful quilts and so can we.

What Bender learned was a philosophy that all writers should adopt. Instead of groaning about doing laundry, Amish women practice compartmentalization and satisfaction. They break down each task into its natural dimensions: wash the clothes, hang them outside to dry, heat flat irons on the wood burning stove, and iron.

The Amish philosophy is not to think of washing the clothes as a task that will make them perspire because the outdoor temperature is one hundred degrees and they will be using hot water and even hotter flatirons. They think how fresh the clothes smell because they used such hot water and how quickly the hot sun dried them on the clothesline. They won’t think about having to replace a cooled flat iron (no electricity is allowed in Amish homes) for a hotter one, but will derive happiness from a pressed sleeve that has a sharp crease in it as they move on to iron the collar.

The Amish farmer doesn’t think how difficult it is to mow hay because he knows that mowing is part, likeable or not, of the larger goal of providing feed for his cattle. He takes satisfaction in seeing his barn stacked with hay bales. They know one or more parts of a job may be onerous but they find satisfaction in conquering each step to achieve the desired result.

Does this strike any bells in your scribe mind? We all know that there is at least one distasteful or difficult section of writing for each of us. For one writer it is the outlining, for another how to make the dialog clearer, and for a third how to tie in the subplot. Instead of railing against the dreaded portion of it, take the Amish approach: plain and simple enjoyment of each part makes for a satisfying whole. Writing dictates that you have to do A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H on your way to sending your novel to a publisher. You cannot skip D because it takes too much effort or is difficult. If you cannot skip it, why not learn to embrace it? Learn to acknowledge how difficult it is for you to do the hard part, but also acknowledge how pleased you will be in the end because you accepted all phases of your writing project.

Be Amish: Plain and Simple.

[Amish quilts are hand sewn traditionally using only two colored dark fabrics. The hand quilting is exquisite. Each quilt has at least one flaw in it intentionally because the Amish believe that only God is perfect.]


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Thank you Jennifer for this inspiring post. What a great way to step back and think about the process of writing and seeing our writing projects through to completion. Good advice for all writers.

Jennifer Rova said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Nancy. Sometimes rethinking a project helps us realize it has many satisfying components to it, not just the finished item. The Amish philosophy has helped me especially in my writing. Realizing that each step is important makes me give equal emphasis to each step and my writing is better.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

What sound advice for us writers - Plain and simple. Take pleasure in each step of writing, including the re-writing ! Thanks for an inspiring post, Jennifer