searching for Peter Elbow

I decided that I would do the free writing assignment I asked my students to do. (There's a funny Peter Elbow antecdote about freewriting. At a lecture, he said that his wife jokes that anything she asks him his answer is freewriting. "Did you pick up the laundry?" "The answer is freewriting.") Okay maybe that's not so funny. Anyway, that isn't the point. I asked students to write about their writing processes. What they liked to write about, how they write etc. Here's what I wrote:

Dorothy Parker said, "I hate writing, I love having written." If you know anything about Dorothy Parker, you can probably guess at why she might hold that attitude. For those of you who aren't familiar with her work, here is an often cited poem called "Resume"


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smell awful;
You might as well live.

I understand how one can be tortured by writing, can have so much in their heads that it can't possibly make it to the page. I have begun to understand that fear accompanies many writers, young and great alike. Fear that what you write won't be good, that it won't be understood, that it will be .... gasp...misread.

I love the process of writing. I love the sound of my fingers on keys. I love getting lost in a character, a thought, a place, a memory. As long as I am in process, I am free. It is when I stop, when I take a break, get a drink of water, dance around the living room, stretch, whatever; it is then I begin to panic. I wonder if anything I've written makes sense. If it will be taken seriously, if I've said the same thing a hundred different ways and badly. I go through this every time I write. So why do I put myself through this process?

I once wrote a poem about my drive to write in order to explain myself as a writer. All I could really come up with was this:

I don't know how not to.

I can't keep myself away from the keyboard, the page, the poem, the essay. I can't resist. I keep hoping that each time I write I will discover something new. And I always do.