Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bad Times = Good Writing

Of course, we all know that one of the main reasons to be a writer is to be able to take the hardest, most painful parts of our lives - as well as all the minor and major irritations that confront us daily - and find some sort of redemption in them, and through them: "At least I can write about it." One of my favorite hymns, putting this in a spiritual context, says:

"Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion, He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life."

Writing also always us to take our brokenness and strife and turn it into something beautiful. Or at least something bearable.

Lately I've been turning bad times into good writing in another way. I've had a Bad Week at work. I was already having a Bad Day one day last week when I got an annoying email from a graduate student and sent an Inappropriate Reply. Oh, why did I do that? Why didn't I just hit delete? Isn't this exactly what the delete button is for? I already get a torrent of philosophy department emails in my inbox every day, and most of them used to be about how bad some of my colleagues are - but now, in the wake of my Inappropriate Reply, most of them are about me! and how bad I am! And yes, I'm sorry. I told the student I'm sorry. Very sorry! And I wish all these emails would stop coming!

But here's the good part. This is giving me reason not to read my email. And to keep a low profile in the philosophy department for a while. For, knowing the way the world of academia works, it will only be a matter of days until somebody else does the Next Bad Thing that occasions the next flood of angry emails and public reprimands. So in the meantime, I can throw my energies into writing my book. And you know, even when the angry, accusatory emails start to be about Other People once again, I may just skip reading them. I'm already on Chapter 5 of my book - this is the one that wasn't working, and wasn't working, and then I started all over again, and now, I think it's brilliant. I love every line of it. I laugh out loud as I'm writing. I wipe away tears. My writing system has always been to write a page a day. Well, yesterday I wrote two entire chapters, pouring out of me in ecstatic relief that I was writing rather than reading philosophy department emails.

So, in the words, not of the United Methodist Hymnal, but of Carly Simon, right now I haven't got time for the pain. What I have time for is writing.


  1. I, too, have had to learn the lesson from Ben Franklin in the last two weeks: "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." Ours will both blow over, and I love your attitude of just pouring yourself into writing instead.

  2. I love that quote! You have the best quotes! I loved one today on your blog from George Carlin, about how if the average person is so dumb that means that half the people are even dumber.