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Several times a day I'm faced with The Question.

The Question: So, how's your writing going?

It's a simple question. A logical one. Innocuous. But somehow this question makes me tense up and spew a slew of nonsense.

Well! It's going well. That is, when I find the time to write. Or, I should say, MAKE the time to write. Because, really, it is all about MAKING time and I'm not sure I'm very good at making the time. With the three kids, it's hard you know. Because there is always SOMETHING. Someone is sick or someone has a birthday party or a class trip or just needs me. You know, SOMETHING. But I can't let these excuses trip me up because I really LOVE writing and it's what makes me HAPPY and this is what I want to DO, you know? But it's going well. I love it. My writing, you know.

Nonsense, I tell you. And I apologize if you've been in my path of late and have made the mistake of inquiring about my writing and I have hit you with some rendition of this garble.

It's not nonsense because it's not true. The thing is that it is impossibly true. My writing is going well, brilliantly well, when I actually do it; I'm absolutely in love with story I'm shaping (ever-so-slowly). And it is also true that I'm not spending enough time on my writing and that I'm not making enough time for my writing. And it is absolutely true that these three little girls have me on their lovely little leashes, that I relish being so tethered, and that there is indeed always something.

But this is all nonsense in another sense of the word. It is nonsense because if I really want to write (oh and I do) and I really want to publish another book (oh and I do) and I really want to be a writer, I must, well, write. And so. For the umpteenth time, I vow to do so. I will write! I will produce words! Watch me go!

I recently stumbled upon two really great pieces about the writing life. One is serious and one is silly but they both convey the very same message, I think, that message being:

Writing is hard.

Dani Shapiro ponders why it is often so difficult for her to write. She says,

Rarely, it happens that something legitimate gets in my way.  Say, a leak in the house.  A blizzard.  A call that a friend's parent has passed away.  You know, life.  But more often than not, the only thing getting in my way is me.  Sound familiar?  It seems so simple, so obvious that all we need to do is get out of our own way.  Set up some ground rules (no internet, no email, no phone) and just follow them.  But we all know that it isn't that easy.  And the reason it isn't easy is because writing is hard.  It ain't for sissies.  It's painful, exhausting, and it exposes nerves we didn't even know we had, not to mention turmoil.  It unleashes the beast of memory.  Left to our own devices, we will do anything to avoid it.  Even though we know that we'll feel better if we just sit down and get to work.

It ain't for sissies? Amen. Avoidance? Sounds familiar. Getting in my own way? Me? Never. Ha. And over at Grin and Tonic, Dan Bergstein shares with his seven tips on How to Write. The second is my absolute favorite:

Your lack of seltzer is no doubt what's holding you back from greatness. If only you had seltzer, then the words would pour out of you…like seltzer out of a seltzer bottle and maybe just as bubbly... If you're out of seltzer and/or limes, consider taking a trip to the store and procuring some. You should buy a few bottles in case your writing hits a hot streak. It's strange that the store is never out of seltzer. Does seltzer go bad? It's probably a recession-proof industry. Talk to your financial manager about this. If a runner is one who runs and a camper is one who camps, is a seltzer one who seltzes? Look this up when you get back home; it may be just the thing your first paragraph needs.

One who seltzes? Are you laughing as hard as I am or does this breed of humor really only work for fiercely-determined-writer-types at 5:46am? Anyway, the point is that there is no magic formula, no perfect setting or circumstances within which to write, no silver bullet, magic formula... {insert cliche of your choice.}

So, no. There is no secret to great and plentiful writing. It's not seltzer. It's not pickles. It's not pudding. (Read the rest of Bergstein's masterpiece for context here.)

Wait, I lied. There is a secret!

The Secret to great writing is writing. It cannot be great if it does not exist.

Okay, time to sign off and sip some Aztec sweet chili tea (cleanse is over next week and then back to coffee!) and face my day. But today if anyone asks me that question, oh and they invariably will, I will puff up my chest and go a different route.

How's my writing going? It's going! I'm writing! And just writing is, I have concluded, the secret to great writing!

Faced with this effusive and odd reply, I might get some bewildered, concerned looks. And then people might stop asking altogether. That would be fine too. Then I would have even a bit more time to pop open that bottle of seltzer, fray some nerves, and get down to business.

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Do you ever get in your own way when trying to write or accomplish something else? Why do you think writing is so hard? When faced with The Question about your writing or professional progress, how do you reply? Are you a fan of seltzer? Aztec sweet chili tea?

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