Z – Zest

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating, by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road he wants to go, I would only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.
Ray Bradbury

I was sure I’d lost my zest. I was pretty sure my gusto had flown the coop.

I tend to expect a lot of myself in terms of creative work. In the past I’ve enjoyed a high output of words and never thought that would change.

Until it did.

Last year, my body delivered its opinion of my expectations and how I handle stress by planting me in the hospital (10 days in March).  I’m still working on the necessary lifestyle adjustments it was clear I needed, including my attitudes toward my own production. Overachievers beware.

I came out of the hospital with two goals: make meaning and find middle ground. So I started a course to become a creativity coach and I got some accountability for my expectations. It’s a good thing I did because November brought the removal of my cancerous thyroid (great news) and the issues of adjusting the replacement hormone, which is a surprisingly long process. Fatigue on a whole new level, folks. If I had gone through that without someone reminding me it would be a good idea to “adjust your expectations, Robyn!” I’d have fallen into my old ways pretty fast.

Mind over matter and “just do it” have been a big part of my life until this past year. I’ve got a whole new level of compassion and empathy for people struggling to get their creative work done. I’ve got a whole new picture of what we do to ourselves with unrealistic expectations, both high and low. I’m navigating toward that middle ground.

So it seems the zest is still there. The gusto hasn’t flown away. I have good habits in place and a craving to put words on paper. Not long ago I complained to my coach about not getting thing done well enough or fast enough. She laughed and pointed to the task list I sent her, reminding me I was getting things done. And I do. I’ve had an enormously productive six months.

Just not the way I used to.

And I need to be okay with that.

Because I still have my zest.


How is your gusto? Do you feel that zest regularly?
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X – Words as X-Rays

Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

The right words reveal our bony parts. They dig in and expose new thoughts, revelations, feelings. The right words can comfort or challenge, affirm or deliver a swift kick. The right words can change us entirely as we sit with them.  The desire to write the right words is strong. How many of us miss the mark?

When I think of the works of Brene Brown, C.S. Lewis, Judith Glaser, or Margaret Atwood, I think of the subtle shift of my being because I read the right words at the right time.

How often have you read words that revealed your bony parts? Can you recall a book or piece of writing that pierced you? How long did those words stay with you?

S – Smooth Over the Sand

“I was sand, I was snow—written on, rewritten, smoothed over.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

I am visiting my parents in the U.S. so most of my pondering time has been spent on eating, sleeping, and riding horses, but I do love the metaphors in the above quote, in part because of the way they convey this idea of starting over: Change that can be implemented with the swipe of a hand. New chances.

As I presume is the case with most writers, my own writing life is closely linked to the other parts—the mundane, the repetitive, the adventurous, the change. Big changes have transpired for me in the last year, and I have felt in numerous ways like a blank sheet. Like sand or snow. Smoothed over and ready for new words. My personal and professional lives have made giant leaps and I am hoping to propel my writing life forward using the same momentum to work on my novel, which means I need to try to make something more solid of my words.

I frequently fail to write without rewriting (at least in draft one), a task that is, unfortunately for me, quite crucial to actually completing a novel. Hence why I spend more time these days thinking about writing instead of actually doing it.

But still, I suppose I am taking small steps into the sand, leaving a footprint here on this blog. One word at a time. Written on, rewritten.

Smoothed over.

Here to stay.


Anything you’re writing or rewriting you would care to share? How do you fight your inner-editor?

O – Writing is an Opportunity

“How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.” 
Paulo Coelho 

As the old cliché goes: Life is full of opportunities. And the same is true of writing. I’ve been pondering this lately, as I try to convince myself to sit down and work on my novel. Each time we go to draft or to journal or to create with words, we are granted an opportunity to delve into other worlds, to meet and think as different people, and to practice and refine a craft. The opportunity only grows from there when we try to get published or to find other outlets for our ideas.

I talk sometimes quite negatively about my writing life, but writing itself has opened doors for me in a lot of various ways. As a product manager, I was required to write product specs and to articulate ideas to different parties who didn’t all speak the same “language.” As an editor, I was made better by paying attention to how other people wrote. For my master’s I got to think more critically of the process we take to reach a final, meaningful piece. And, last but not least, writing has always been the means by which I make sense of a chaotic world and express myself.

It’s no secret that I have a dislike of writing bad words. I know this, and I know I need to write badly first before I can hope to write well. But my own perfectionism has been a driving force in the way I approach my own writing, and because of it, I sometimes wonder if I’ve missed out. If I were braver about submitting my work, would I be published more already? If I were less afraid to write poorly, would I already have finished my novel? Am I losing opportunities this way?

I try to remind myself that fear of failure is not an excuse to forego potential opportunities. Failing even to fail is a missed opportunity itself. And in writing I think it’s more important than ever to fail, and to fail well. Otherwise nothing changes.

So what do you think? Have you ever felt like you’ve missed an opportunity?

M – Writers in Motion

“I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still”

― Sylvia PlathLetters Home

I have chosen the oft-quoted Sylvia Plath as the driving force of my post today. If you don’t have a copy of The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath (I don’t know if that quote is actually in that book), then I highly recommend it. In the late-night (more like very early morning) hours, especially in winter for some reason, I enjoy delving into some other writer’s broken brain for a while. It makes me feel slightly less alone on a lot of cold, dark nights. Also, slightly less broken. Mostly, though, what I like about reading diaries or these more introspective personal works by famous authors is that they are windows into the people within the words. And what I’ve found most interesting is that many writers share a common sort of psychological need for motion: the motion of passing moments into meaning, and meaning into something more enduring. This often indescribable need to set words free.

Each time I ponder Sylvia Plath’s words above, I think of the voice—the Voice—within myself that has always driven me to write. Not the conversations that go on in my head sometimes between characters while I’m walking down the street, or even the words I’m writing in my mind on the bus about the passing scenery or one lone passerby on the sidewalk. No, though these are all part of the thing in me that is writing, these are not what moves me to write. What truly moves me into putting words down is this feeling—this intense urge—that if I don’t write, I will shatter. The crack starts out small, but it grows and grows and grows. Before I know it, I’m breaking open in words.

A few years back, before I had other writers more consistently in my life (and the Muses), I wrote to a friend: “I hate that no one is listening . . . That no one can hear the words screaming in my head, begging to be written. That no one in my life feels the way they claw at me day and night, not like a passion or a talent, but an insanity.”

My relationship with words has always been a tenuous love affair. Though I cannot imagine a life without language, I often feel as if words dictate me rather than the other way around. I can go weeks sometimes without writing anything emotionally substantial, but the Voice, like carrion waiting on the fatal blow, circles and circles and becomes almost too heavy to carry; all those words I’ve stored up start to push back. And then BAM, I crack. Before I know it, I’m back at the computer or paper and away I go, back in motion, exhaling the Voice, releasing the words, so that I can, however briefly, come to a standstill.

As Dorothy Parker has said: “I hate writing, I love having written.”

As a confession: Sometimes I truly hate writing. You know how it is, when you’re trying to build a habit. Not to write sporadically but to sit down every day and coerce the words onto the page. Sometimes, despite the insistence of the Voice, it’s a real fight. But I love the silence within me that arrives after having written. I love feeling, however briefly, that I’ve moved some part of myself forward in the process, and, in doing so, arrived at a crossroads where nothing moves at all.

Only when I reach this point do I actually appreciate writing, at least the act of it: when my Voice is sated and my words are still and I am totally silent.


What does your writing Voice tell you?