The Intimate Life of a Writer

Admonishment: I have violated social media protocol. The last serious post to any of my blogs was written in December of last year. These kinds of cryptic sabbaticals from blog duty seem to be my forte, and in fact, apply to all of my writing. I moved my coyote caboodle over to wordpress at the dawning of 2010, leaving two years of posts on blogspot to sit idle and collect traffic dust. It is my goal to confuse the hell out of search engines and spread coyotescribe over the internet like a basting sauce.

I’ve been going through hell. I mean, not really hell, but I’ve been wandering the dark recesses of self-doubt, and occasionally finding myself lost in Dante’s dark wood, where midway through my novel I become wholly lost.

Everything’s up right now: creativity, chaos, impending change, reaching out for my characters, being courageous enough to leap into nothingness, my need for a sensuous life (a life filled with sensation), including sensuous sexuality, something my characters need, too.

My personal plight lately has been dealing with the chauvinistic constructs of what sexy is, what beauty is, and what older women are, and what I’m “supposed” to be doing and feeling at my age. Well, yesterday I just snapped, meaning: I frickin’ snapped out of it, with the help of a wild coyote and my departed grandmother.

As much as I have imagined how my heart would pump with dread at having a close encounter with a coyote, it didn’t happen like that at all. I heard a rustle in the tall weeds not more than twelve yards in front of me. He bound over the path, paused, looked at me, then walked on, stopped and turned back again before disappearing in the foliage by the creek. Then he peeked at me through the foliage, just too curious. I had my camera, but I didn’t take the shot. I was in the moment with him, in awe, in wonder, and there was not a frightened bone in my body.  Instead, I felt gratitude.

My grandmother showed up later that same evening. Since her death, there have been times when I’ve shared communication with her, but it seems the coyote instilled enough wildness in me to up-step my attenuator to the other side. And, I don’t think I could’ve received this message from my grandmother before now, the message that she, too, had rebelled. She became a teenager in the roaring 20s, and rebelled in the flowery 60s, when I was becoming a teenager. But hers was a quiet rebellion, unlike the one I was going through at the time. There were those few women from her generation who resisted male-dominated constraint in the 1960s, and I was lucky enough to have one of those rare and precious older women in my life. Never did I see her compromise her presence, or her love, for the sake of presentation. My grandmother Opal was beautiful, even at 70. Her name says it all, doesn’t it?

This is Opal and me on her front porch in Hannibal, Missouri. She’s dressed in her Red Cross volunteer “Gray Ladies” uniform. The year was 1956, and though she was my grandmother, she was only forty-one years old at the time.  She was keeping a treasure map for me, safely tucked away, until the day I would find it—at the moment I needed it—a map of mattering and meaning, of value and vitality, of beauty and uncompromising self. I finally discovered her treasure map, at fifty-six years old.

* * *

There’s a level of intimacy I’ve been reaching for—in my writing, in my music, and with the people in my life whom I choose to share that intimacy with, those I call my soul family, where the connection goes beyond physical life. We are linked by some invisible force emanating from deeper parts of ourselves, and we come together to meet in this life, again. Some of those souls are the characters in my novel—not based on real people I know, but people who are just as real in their worlds as I am in mine. I believe that every good story has been plucked from a reality beyond our comprehension, perhaps from another star system in a parallel universe; no less viable than the world we deem the center of our universe.

Path of Totality, the novel

If I’m writing the stories wrong, everything stops working, jammed like an old rusty pocket watch, the hands of time refusing to move. I was born in Hannibal, Missouri, and so I have a particular fondness for the storytelling wisdom of Mark Twain. He once explained it this way:

“There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written — it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story, and if you fail to find that form, the story will not tell itself.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Mark Twain’s desk just the way he left it in the basement press area of Nevada’s first newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote for the Virginia City paper from 1862-1864.  I took this photo while on a research trip for my novel in Reno, Nevada.  I sat in a chair to the left of Twain’s office area and carried on a rather in-depth conversation with him, but that’s another story for another time.

This idea that stories are stubborn and refuse to be written until they’re in their right form, I totally believe. Of course, there are otherwise times when emotional upheavals and personal process can block my writing, too.  But I’m at a place in my book, Chapter Twenty-Five, where the right form of the story has not presented itself, and my writing process has melded with my personal upheavals. I have decided that I cannot separate them, because it seems me and my characters are inextricably linked. NOT because they’re ME, but because I’m that close to them.

This whole thing also presents me with a dilemma, because all the current writing wisdom out there says to keep going no matter how shitty you write it. Read the acclaimed “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott.  She’s got a whole chapter on “Shitty First Drafts.” And this “writing is rewriting” has become such an obsession that everyone who is deemed a REAL writer must wholehoggedly regurgitate their first draft.

I’m rebelling against that, too, and I don’t give a flying turd if anyone thinks I’m a real writer—not anymore.  I’m determined to get this novel published.  In my gut, my expectations are high, and those who know me would attest to this not being my typical view, since I often castigate myself over my artistic endeavors.  I’ve leaned heavily on the tortured and starving artist image for the better part of my life.  I’m realizing it only now, validation doesn’t come from “out there,” it comes from my characters.  I’m not going to write a shitty chapter because that’s what conventional wisdom purports.  I have to listen to my main character.  He’s a mixed-blood Ojibwe Indian and a Vietnam Vet living in 1978, and he’s now in the darkest moment of his life.  Sure, I have my doubts about whether I can even do it, and the voice that says, “Who the hell are you to write such a character, someone you’ve never walked in the shoes of?”

I’ve twittered about it, facebooked about it, even raked my collective body parts over the coals about it.  But I’m not going to write this chapter shitty!  And I’m not going to drink booze, nor gulp caffeinated beverages, or get my sugar fix and carb myself to death because I’m in a crisis.  Like Dante in the Inferno, I need to be there in the dark wood.  I have to be lost there for awhile.  It’s important.

I’ve been thinking about this writing stuff for a long time, and dying to file a public complaint against hard-and-fast rules spinning like twirling gifs all around the web, and frankly, it’s starting to bore me, if not weary me.  I still keep learning.  I want that.  I’ve recently gotten the New York publishing perspective from an editor and literary agent visiting California.  (I was lucky enough to get into her writers bootcamp.)  It’s been enlightening, and I’m adding her insights to my learning toolbox, but I must take what I need when I need it, and leave the rest behind.  I jotted a note in the middle of one of the workshops, telling myself, “I am not overriding my instincts with logic.”  And, at the same time, I darn well know I’m going to do whatever I can to get my characters their day in books.  But I won’t compromise their voice in order to do it, or my own voice, for that matter.

Question: Is it remotely possible that the writer’s vision may have a different, even wider-scoped view, when it comes to the story’s best courses of action, beyond the manipulation of words to conform to the sellable product?  I know.  I know.  I sound really naïve, like my ego’s all over the place.  Because this, too, has gone round and round too many times to count, bubbling up like so much laundry soap from writers’ egos everywhere.

Here I make no comment.

I’ve realized after the fact, following dozens of courses on the craft of writing (mostly from UCLA Extension Writers Program), that while I was in the midst of my writer’s education, I was listening through the ears of insecurity.  Well, I’m not doing it anymore.  I am not overriding instincts with logic.  I’ve learned a lot, my instincts have been honed by that knowledge, and now I’m making the decisions.

Two things are true: (1) Intimacy is scary, and (2) I need it for my writing.  And if I’m not down there, I’m going to do everything I can to get myself there, no matter how big a chunk the effort devours from my writing time.  I believe I have to be vulnerable to write.  If there are intimacy issues going on in my life, they’re also going on in my writing.

I also believe there’s a place on the other side of real where my characters truly exist.  There’s also this light on the other side of the darkness.  I gotta go there—into the darkness—and find the light at the end of the dark wood, not only for me, but for my characters.  Without the darkness (the substance, the soul), how would I be able to see how bright the light can be, to see the story arc in its fullness?  The journey has to be worth it, for me, for my characters, and for the readers who pick up the book and want to take the journey with them, wanting to see where the story ends.

I don’t agree with Ernest Hemingway, who said: “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

Sorry Ernie, I want the deepest part of the well to be in my writing, and so I want the last, dark drop to moisten my manuscript.  Then I’ll rest.  I’m not worried about running my well dry.  If I do, then there’s a whole lot more going on than what’s contained in my story.  That’s when I must take a break, one of my cryptic sabbaticals, to feel whatever’s there, no matter how scary it is, to feel all of it, down to the last drop, then let my imagination pour itself into the mysterious waters.

Am I am afraid of letting myself loose, to be that free?… trust myself enough that I won’t indulge myself, give up the ghost, give up my writing?  Will I listen to the wind in both my worlds?  How would I respond if I didn’t trust myself with the information?  As I ask for help from the wind, then maybe my imagination can spark to life and I can begin writing again.

Writing for my blog has got me going again, and I’m trying to get this post done and uploaded, because when I’m finished, not only will I have satisfied some social media requirement, but I will have been launched into a reunion with my novel, and you probably won’t see me around here for another six months.  My main character’s letting me know that he’s ready to spill out onto the page again.  It has to come from him.  It’s happening because things are changing from the inside out, and not the other way around.

AFTERGLOW:  This blog post was not initially written while sitting at the computer, but during my walks in the woods near my apartment.  I would stop midway on the trail and scribble on scraps of paper stuffed in my camera bag. Most of the photos accompanying the words also stopped me midway on the trail, where aerobic exercise became wholly lostOther photos are from Hannibal, Missouri; Virginia City, Nevada; and Rice Lake State Park, Minnesota. The photo of the back of my head was taken by my cousin, Alison Hurst (Winter Park, Florida).


9 Responses to “The Intimate Life of a Writer”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ed Mayor, Tysa Goodrich. Tysa Goodrich said: After four months, my blog sabbatical is finally over… and it's oh so revealing: "The Intimate Life of a Writer"… […]

  2. great post and photos Tysa! I could relate to a lot of what you had to say!!

  3. “Who the hell are you to write such a character, someone you’ve never walked in the shoes of?”

    I can tell you who you are!!!! A writer!

    Enveloping yourself in the idea, dedicating yourself to the story is what makes creativity so beautiful and exciting! Through your vision we will see. Showing us, is your gift.


    • Thank you for the encouragement, Robert. It seems the more creative we are, the more impeccable we need to be with unraveling the stuff of our creations.

  4. Beautiful, Tysa! “I need to be there in the dark wood. I have to be lost there for awhile. It’s important.” ….. and the Light in the depth, on the other side. Transcendent moment, Thanks! vp

  5. I’ve been similarly struggling with a novel that might be refusing to be written because it’s not in the right form. I loved that Mark Twain quote! It really resonates in me.

    I also identify with your trying to balance your inner voice with class/advice.

    Here’s hoping we both figure out soon how to let the story tell itself!

    • Raquel, so nice to hear from a fellow writer! Yes, it’s like my characters start digging in their heels when I’m writing stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with them, or their story. Mark Twain knew. He’s my hero. By the way, I like your The Story that Refuses to Be Written blog post. And I see you’re a musician, too, and from New York. We have some things in common. I LOVE New York City, so much I chronicled my last visit: New York Won’t Leave Me Alone. So nice to meet you on blog street. (-:

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