Be glad in the Lord and rejoice! Psalm 32:11

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Guest Post - "Doing Things Badly" by Susan Spangler, author of "The Year Of The Bird" - an essay on writing

Doing Things Badly

By Susan Spangler, author & illustrator of The Year of the Bird

Years ago, I read a book called Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg. It gives advice about how to write. The gist of it is this: if you want to write, start. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. Just write something. Then write more.

Speaking of advice... 

Have you ever noticed how much everyone loves to give it? And it’s not just an impulse. It’s an entire industry. Advice sells. We pay for it. But do we take it? Almost never. When’s the last time you took someone else’s advice?

Still, exceptions can be made. And I made one for Natalie Goldberg. I do what she said. When I want to write, I just start. One word in front of another. It doesn’t matter how.

If it’s no good, I can always hit the Delete button. That’s why it was invented. That’s why everyone loves it. Because no one never does things badly.

And speaking of doing things badly... 

How about this: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Don’t you love that? Me, too. A textbook one-liner. Starts out like time-worn advice. Yawn. You’re sure you know what’s coming next: a mini-lecture on doing things right. And then.

At the very end: the switcheroo. What? Things are worth doing—badly?

Uh huh. That’s what it said.

That’s what G.K. Chesterton said, actually. He was an English writer. I googled him. You can find a lot of his sayings online. This is his best one.

I should know. I do things badly all the time. Don’t you?

But back to writing...

Writing without planning. Writing whatever comes to mind. Hmm. That sounds an awful lot like keeping a journal.  

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been browsing in a bookstore and found yourself in the journal department. You know, those little books with beautifully designed covers and blank pages. And you thought, “I could keep a journal!” Right? So you bought one.

And you never wrote in it. Because, really, is there anything more intimidating than a book of blank pages? Well, yes.

But you have to admit, there is something about that absolute blankness that makes it impossible to write.

So after awhile, you stowed your beautifully blank book on a shelf. Where it stayed until, in a panic because you forgot to pick up a birthday gift for the party that’s starting in twenty minutes, you found it again, heaved a sigh of relief, taped some wrapping paper over it, and gave it to your friend.

My theory about journals: that’s what happens to most of them.

On the other hand...

Sometimes things happen that you just have to write about. Like when life drops big surprises into your lap. Illness. Death. Loss. Grief. Those kinds of surprises. Surprises that are too big to think about.

That’s what happened to me. Our young son-in-law got cancer. His death left our daughter alone with three little children. My elderly mother-in-law got too sick to live in her home of fifty years and had to move to assisted living, and then to hospice. Someone had to take care of them all. Guess who.

Who knows how to take care of people at times like that? Nobody. But there’s no choice. You just have to do it. Even if you feel like you’re doing it badly.

So that’s what I did.

It was hard. It was even hard to think about. Hard to put into words.

So I took Natalie Goldberg’s advice. I wrote. Then I wrote some more. One word in front of the other. And it helped.

Seeing my thoughts translated into letters on a page helped bring life down to size. It helped get me through the day.

Sometimes I wrote badly. Sometimes not. Whichever way it went, I kept writing. And rewriting. It’s funny. I didn’t think of it as a journal at all. But—surprise—that’s what it was.

After awhile, I started painting pictures to go with the words.

And after that, parts of my journal became a book. With pictures. A book about how to find comfort in a world of surprises. A graphic journal, called The Year of the Bird. Actually, a real book that you can buy on amazon.com. Imagine that.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

The real point is that sometimes it helps to take advice. That you can find inspiration in surprising places. And that good advice about writing can also turn out to be good advice about living. One word in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.

Is there something that needs to get done? Okay. Plunge in. Do it badly. And after that? Heads up! That’s where the surprises come in.

artwork from "The Year Of The Bird"

Susan Spangler Bio

Susan Spangler is an artist, writer, and homeschool teacher. Her new book, The Year of the Bird, is a frank and inspiring memoir of an ordinary family faced with extraordinary events, told with heart, humor and love. Susan’s blog about homeschooling will launch in July. Info about her blog plus many examples of her vibrant artwork can be found on her website, www.susanspangler.com, as well as her facebook page, www.facebook.com/susanspangler.pixwords.

The Year of the Bird can be purchased directly from Susan’s website (www.susanspangler.com) as well as on amazon.com (http://amzn.to/LpetzU) and barnesandnoble.com (http://bit.ly/ICy0Y0). It can also be downloaded from iTunes as an illustrated ebook.

My thanks to Sam Glazer of TalkLoudPR for coordinating this guest post, and to Susan Spangler for contributing her post.

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