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On Writing: Louise Erdrich

I'm excited to introduce a regular feature to my blog: On Writing.

There are a gazillion books and poems and essays about the art of writing. I'm pretty sure there's not much more to say, certainly nothing original that I could add to the mix.

Instead, this will be a place to share what others have to say about writing. Stephen King. Anne Lamott. John Gardner. Natalie Goldberg. I'll feature a selection, I'll give you a brief take on it, and then invite you to share your reactions.

First up is one of the writers whose story-telling skills stopped me in my tracks. I was in a Walden's Books. It was 1987. I was heading to college, and was looking for something to read that was distinctly non-high school canon material.

I spotted Erdrich's first novel, "The Beet Queen," read the first scene, and was hooked. All her books kick ass, but my favorites include "Tracks" and "The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse."

Here, the author tells us that, for writers, everything else can wait.

"Advice to Myself"

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor. Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster. Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup. Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins. Don't even sew on a button. Let the wind have its way, then the earth that invades as dust and then the dead foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch. Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome. Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry who uses whose toothbrush or if anything matches, at all. Except one word to another. Or a thought. Pursue the authentic-decide first what is authentic, then go after it with all your heart. Your heart, that place you don't even think of cleaning out. That closet stuffed with savage mementos. Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner again. Don't answer the telephone, ever, or weep over anything at all that breaks. Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead who drift in through the screened windows, who collect patiently on the tops of food jars and books. Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters this ruse you call necessity.


I, for one, can relate. On my mental "to-do" lists, writing always comes last. It sits beneath domestic things: laundry, dishes, light bulbs that need replacing, bills, phone calls.

My writing schedule is a dream. I simply don't have one. I write in spurts. When working on a project, I'll write for hours every day. But the stuff of life piles up, calling out for my attention. I just have to clean that fridge.

I once posted this poem near my work area, a reminder that everything else can wait. It's a constant struggle.

Can you relate to Erdrich's poem? Do you write, like so many successful professionals, at certain times every day, no matter what?


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