The Memoir and the Amaryllis

This is the second year my daughter-in-law gave me an amaryllis for Christmas. Maybe you got one too. They come all packaged up in a pretty box—a disk of potting soil, a large amaryllis bulb and a pot to grow it in.

I followed the directions on the box, soaked the potting soil in water until it filled the pot then planted the bulb, pointy side down, and set the pot on my kitchen table where, each morning, I sit with my coffee and my notebooks and write.

These days I’m deep inside writing a memoir based on an around-the-world trip I took many years ago, after my husband died. I’m writing the notebook draft first, going to the blank page each morning and hoping to get down two or three or four pages. (Some mornings I settle for one.) It’s slow going. I think I might get discouraged at how long it’s taking me to get this first draft done, except for the amaryllis.

For several mornings after I first planted the bulb I’d lean over the plant, coffee cup in hand, and examine it to see if anything had started growing yet. Nothing… nothing… nothing… until one day: voila! a tiny sprout of green showed itself. I was giddy with delight. Of course, all along things were going on underground: roots were digging deeper, finding their way. It’s like this with the writing: nothing… nothing… nothing… and then, one morning, voila! just like that: meaning appears and I experience the same giddiness. But before that cracking open of meaning can happen, there must be the digging deep, the work of finding the way.

Each of these winter mornings since planting the Amaryllis, I go through the same routine: examine the plant and rotate it toward the light, then light my candle, get out my notebook and pen, and settle in to write.

Slowly, day by January and February day, the plant grew, leaves took shape, embryonic buds emerged. And day by day, in my notebook, the story grew, sentences took shape, paragraphs emerged. The Amaryllis and the memoir, both in the process of transforming.

Naturally, the cycle of the Amaryllis much shorter than the cycle of making a memoir, or a novel, or any long piece of writing. It will reach full bloom long before the memoir is complete. But for both, it’s still a matter of turning toward the light, digging deep, and allowing the process to shape what wants to emerge. Each must take as long as it takes.








How will you keep writing during the holidays?

For some of us staying with a regular writing practice is a challenge at the best of times. So what do we do when the holidays come with their time demands and additional madness? Following are a few suggestions.

Set writing appointments with yourself and put them on your calendar. There’s something about seeing an appointment printed on a calendar that makes it more compelling than simply a mental note to write “sometime.” And you know how easy it is to lose those mental notes-to-self.

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Process Journals and The Art of Slow Writing

I’ve been an advocate for and practitioner of “slow writing” for decades though I never knew there was a name for it. Others can have their NaNoWriMo or their finish-your-novel-in-six-weeks or -a-weekend or however speedily they want to go. A daily practice of anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours with an occasional long weekend or even longer retreat thrown in is what works for me.

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