From the Belly of a Whale (the Arduous Run From Writing)

Posted By T.H.Meyer | 4 comments

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live, to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or version clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment.” The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit


There is quicksand in writing when one gets to the thick of it.  When we begin the story before us, the one aching to be told, it can suck us in and immobilize us.


Rebecca Solnit wrote that we tell our stories for many reasons but mostly because it is saving us. Her poetic imagery of how stories come to life are like memories which once were frozen statues thawing to life. We reach within us where a snapshot captures a memory and there, begins to talk.  When she wrote, The Faraway Nearby, her Mom was in the declining stages of Alzheimer’s. She was living inside the heavy burden of care-taking and perhaps writing her story then was what was saving her too.


As writers, we weave our memories. We give them arms, legs, and bodies to walk off the page into the reader’s world. But it’s the process that is most troubling for us. We have days that fall flat and the words remain void in their escape of us. In a vastness of seemingly nothing-ness, we struggle to just do the work. It’s a lonely business of vulnerability before being exposed. As terrified as we are to share our words, it’s almost a relieve to release them.


“Somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the other (voices) with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


I had a conversation with my husband this week about how I’m learning to embrace the process.


I asked him, “When my days are too busy to write and I do not have time, you know what the answer to my problem is?”  To which he gave me a blank look as he waited for me to respond.


“Sit my butt in the chair and do the work,” I said. “And when I don’t have words and I procrastinate because of the tedious task to find them, the answer? Sit my butt in the chair and just write. Or when I get distracted, flustered, overwhelmed, pile on too many projects,  or wear myself out with all the things instead of writing, again the answer? Sit my butt in the chair and just. do. the. work.”


He laughed. There is such simplicity in that, a simple truth at its best and worst. On the one hand, it is within grasp. On the other hand, it is very hard. The blank page, stark and naked, can push us to distraction.


The creative process is a familiar one. There is fear, vulnerability, trepidation, and the solitary work of the chair. But also, as creatives we encourage each other by sharing our experiences of the process that we are not alone in it, even as we alone are only the ones able to go through it. Yet, solidarity makes us stronger. Braver.


As we capture words, wrestling them to paper, a writer comes alive. We build dwellings with story and shape them into form. Then we invite others through the front door and find our elbows rub a little, the new space of words becoming intimate and near.


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Many of us have known the failure to live creatively, to quit all together. For me, this was a good process, one that helped me. I put writing out to pasture for over a decade. But eventually I returned to it like a prodigal child or maybe it returned to me. I embraced it as a parent, father/mother running to greet it at the road. As it returned, by God’s grace, there’s a new and cherished appreciation which comes with it. So when Rebecca Solnit mentions cynicism being a “very elegant garment”, I imagine it’s what happens when we doubt and question what we’ve been entrusted.


Forget the critics. We are our own worst enemy. We mock our muse or despise the urge. We wonder, “what’s the point, anyway?” We carry on in this “elegant garment” of cynicism with all things writing, of art, of creative energy, in general. We shrink back and give up for a season. We cloak ourselves rather sharply in cynicism because we wonder who we are to be able to do this glorious thing anyway?


But eventually, we come back to a sentence. As much as try to turn our backs on it, we start again because we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It is simply that. No matter how far we run, hide our face, stop our ears, squeeze our eyes shut, and plead the cursed words away, the whole writing impulse to be taken from us–we come back in order to live.


We come back because a story is setting sail and we are willing to take it by force, if need be. It’s a place where we no longer care for our own lives so much anymore. God is now propelling us for others on the trade winds that take us to deep waters for someone else’s sake, as well as our own.


As writers, there is courage and sacrifice and plain work, but it’s what is saving us. It’s what God has put in us to do. There are times we may find ourselves in a belly of the whale. But when we are beached near Nineveh’s shores, let’s begin the work.


We are storytellers. For once, we aren’t running. Instead, we are embracing.


~~Tammy {Duet 31:6}





  1. I am still getting used to you having a different place to write! this is beautiful Tammy! “As writers, there is courage and sacrifice and plain work, but it’s what is saving us. ” I love this line!

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  2. Words of wisdom, speaking close today. The words are always there for me but sometimes so disordered I fear they don’t make sense, even to me.
    It is like capturing the wind and that feels impossible. Buy what if the enclosure that carries the wind seemed full and I believed it…then holding the wind is as simple as putting the lid on the glass jar and looking at the possibility? Like sitting in the chair and seeing the screen for all it can be.
    Jer. 29:11- the plans He has include good things, hopeful things, a future full of both.
    I am inspired, Tammy. I needed the breath of fresh air today.♡
    Bless you.

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