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Blog

When Your Writing Coach is a Ghost

Amber Adrian

Six weeks ago, I was elbowed by the ghost of Mary Oliver in a bookstore.

She offered to help me with my writing, which was very kind, because she has the whole of the cosmos to play in, as well as any number of superior writers.

But she offered, I accepted, and here we are.

Her first assignment was to write a page a day.

So I dutifully made a folder on my desktop, which I labeled Mary Oliver and used to stash each day’s page.

Whenever this assignment drifts across my mind - like a tumbleweed attempting to cross a twelve lane highway during rush hour - I assume I’m doing pretty well. Sure, I’ve missed a few days here and there, but surely I’m a good student, one a ghost wouldn’t regret taking on.

Turns out, I haven’t been doing well at all.

I looked at the folder today. Between February 19 and today, March 25, I’ve written precisely eight pages. And that’s only if you include this blog post, which I most certainly am.

Why I need a writing coach is becoming wildly and brutally apparent.

One of the aforementioned pages was a conversation I had with her, which I will share with you now, even though it doesn’t portray me in the best light:

Me: I need to feel some more things first.

Mary Oliver: No, you don’t. It’s self-indulgent. The writing comes first.

[Me: Wanting to argue, but deciding against it.]

Me: This is showing me my inconsistency. You said a page a day and I’ve done maybe five pages, partial pages, in a month.

Mary Oliver: Are you going to let that stop you or are you going to do better?

Me: I don’t like the word better.

Mary Oliver: Don’t trigger, just commit to your writing, the way you know you’re meant to and you know you want to.

Me: I’m tired.

Mary Oliver: You’re being whiny.

Me: Yes.

Mary Oliver: Sigh.

Me: So what do I do? How do I move forward?

Mary Oliver: How do you want to move forward? I can’t tell you what to do and you shouldn’t listen to me if I try.

Me: I want to write fiction. I want to write that story that keeps playing like a movie in my head when I take my walks.

Mary Oliver: Then do that. Write those stories as best you can. Trust the one that is meant to come through will. Just keep going.

Me: I’m so tired.

Mary Oliver: I know. I used to get tired too. Just keep going. Nap if you need to, walk to the trees if you need to, but keep going. Just don’t give up. It’s not time to give up.

Me: Is this resistance?

Mary Oliver: Does it matter? Just keep going. Take care of yourself, because that’s good for the writing, but keep going.

Stop overanalyzing everything.

Do your utmost to show up consistently and trust the unfolding.

There are seasons in writing just as there are seasons in nature. There are seasons in your life just there are seasons in the life of an oak tree.

Allow the seasons. Allow yourself to rest when you feel fallow and bloom when it’s time.

You’ll bloom when it’s time.

----

Mary Oliver doesn’t seem to put up with whining, nor should she.

Whining is definitely not my most attractive trait.

It’s a tricky balance between being really gentle and kind with yourself and … not whining.

(Maybe that balance is only tricky for me.)

I want to be consistent. That’s why I started my Moose in the Kitchen blog oh-so-many-years ago. (Thirteen years ago? Fourteen?) That’s why I started writing this blog again even though I’m not sure anyone actually reads it.

I want to be in the steady flow of words, the one I was able to access so easily for so many years.

I want to finish things, things I’m proud of.

I want to stop beating myself up for being where I am, rather than where my brain says I should be.

I want the ghost of Mary Oliver to be proud of me, or at least feel fairly confident that she’s not wasting her time with me.

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