When we got home from our summer trip to Italy, I was at a crossroads. Not only had I abandoned the idea of writing a book-length memoir, but I was also losing interest in the entire topic. I had lost my writing purpose.
Sensing a change in the wind a few months back, I had begun journaling about my life. I wanted to record and celebrate ordinary moments (instead of just dramatic ones from the past). I was amassing stacks of notes (especially once I discovered voice recording), but without a plan, they simply piled up. Sometimes I found myself crying, thinking about how much I write and write but never finish anything. I even wondered, while I was traipsing around Italy, if writing still needed to be a big part of my life.
But I knew I still wanted to write when upon returning home, the first book I picked up was The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. One of the toughest things about writing, DeSalvo says, is that you must be both the manager and the laborer, and you must find a balance of these two roles. Too much managing and you’re all plans and ideas without much writing. Too much laboring, and you’re writing and writing without completing anything.
Still, knowing this wasn’t enough. I needed direction and a concrete plan. Then another teacher appeared. During a Craft Talks webinar on micro-prose, Darien Hsu Gee explained that the brain needs specific instructions (or containers), or else it starts running wild.
Gee didn’t just suggest that we make containers, she handed them out, starting with how much to write (300 words or less) and including how much time to draft (10 minutes: no more, no less), how to build a body of work (create a table of contents with 18 blanks, the minimum length of a chapbook), and how to commit to a weekly writing schedule (she gave us samples that involved writing 5 or 7 days a week, only 10 minutes a day!)
I knew this approach was for me. I’ve been leaning toward micro-prose, but I hadn’t committed to creating submittable work. I love homework-like instructions and someone telling me: this is how you do it. Plus the brevity of the form (and the tight constraints on writing and revising time) meant that I could finish pieces and move on, satisfying my desire to write about life as it happens. Working toward a goal (18 finished micro-pieces in the next month) has infused new energy into my writing life and has given me confidence that I can manage myself.
Sometimes we don’t know what we need until we find it. Is it possible that your writer-self needs your manager-self to step up and figure out a plan?