Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 28, 2015

Joy and Angst at the Desk

I’ve had a rocky relationship with creative writing for a bit. I’ve been doing book marketing, as my patient and loyal readers know perhaps too well, between softly hammering at a manuscript, trying to beat out a better structure. The plot muse is shy. Really I haven’t been violent – just tapping – but it still seems the plot might need not force, but time to step into view. Maybe my problem wasn’t with writing, but that I was trying to write the wrong thing.

Yesterday I left my novel and worked on some new poems, with sunflowers in a vase at my side, faces down, but still bright. Is my quiet joy a sign I’m on the right track? I take it as such, though a friend recently told me about how labored her writing can feel. We discussed Plath and Van Gogh, depression and other illnesses, the risks of art and the world. My friend says her journal is the one place where writing feels good. There she can say what she wishes, run on about whatever steps in her path. And sometimes what steps in can be used for other ongoing work.

Are you someone who loves to write or who hates it, though perhaps finds some pleasure in having the writing be done? For my teacher friends, how much is happiness or hard times at the desk part of your conversation about writing? I generally say I like writing and I generally do. But writing is a long road. I like getting ideas and I like tying them up, but there are places in the middle where my pen sticks and my breath stutters. These are parts I have to get through, like the tree pose in yoga, in order to enjoy the stretches at the beginning and end of the class. Those middle parts may need a little will power or its more fun-loving sister, obsessiveness, to power through. Or perhaps we need to give ourselves a break, look up or down for beauty along the way, which is what we mostly have.


These days I miss having a four-legged companion on my walks, butI keep my eye open for dogs who seem to be looking for a moment of admiration and owners who are willing to stop for strangers to hold out a hand to be sniffed. I told one dog, “You’re so cute and so good,” and the woman with the dog replied, “That is a dog’s Namaste.” We may look forward to writing “the end!” or hear benedictions or those The-light-in-me-sees-the-light-in-you’s, but really may best stop in the midst and call them up.


  1. Ah, yes, writing – our work and our passion. So nice that you are always creating new work, Jeannine. I’m mostly rewriting these days – lots and lots of rewriting, reworking old things. But I like it – the obsessiveness, the difficult birth. Things outside the work make me itching to get back to it – to the absolute concentration and calm I feel doing it.

    • I’m glad you are finding joy and calm in the difficult births. I like the revising parts, leaning in to get words right, but found I’d been missing a sense of the every-which-way beginnings, the forgivingness of that. Revising too long can put me into too much of a judgmental frame. May you be just critical enough.

  2. I find that I do share the challenges of my own writing habits with my students, Jeannine. This ongoing conversation helps them see that writing is not some sort of magic – it’s a combination of so many things, among which are the happiness that a period of productive writing brings and the frustrations of being stuck. I think they find comfort in that – knowing that it is a process with ebbs and flows. Love that shared namaste with a friendly four legged friend!

    • I am sure your students find comfort and hope in what you share. I wish there was a Tara in every school!

  3. I love to think of your quiet joy in those poems, Jeannine. For me, the first draft is always the hardest, though there are other hard parts, too. But even in that first draft there are moments when (as Jo March would say) “genius burns” — and there’s no other feeling quite like it. To create something from nothing is overwhelming, but also miraculous. xoxo

    • All the parts have their own beginnings and ends, with their echos of beginnings’ joys and struggles, and endings’ satisfactions. It’s good to think of you finding miracles at your desk. xo

  4. “there are places in the middle where my pen sticks and my breath stutters.” So much this. Yet I’m reminded of lyrics from “The Scientist” by Coldplay:

    “Nobody said it was easy . . . no one ever said it would be this hard” Isn’t that just the truth? (Great song, but the video disturbs me, so I didn’t link to it.)

    Moments of quiet joy are indeed a marker of good things, but so is the twisty obsessive feeling we sometimes get, even when we aren’t managing to get things onto the page. The work (or, if you like, the muse) comes to us in so many guises, and each has their own sort of merit. Some are easier to spend time with than others.

    “Nobody said it was easy . . .”

    • I couldn’t have said it better. The work is as complex as life: there, too, we might like to pick and choose between the hard or happy parts, but we’re best off looking for the gifts in them all. I’m glad for your company on this!

  5. This is lovely, Jeannine. I so appreciate your musings and the way you inspire us by sharing your journey. Uphill, downhill, rocky, endless, complete, never complete–it’s all our unique creation, and what can we do but enjoy the ride! much love ❤

    • It’s been good to share much of this road with you online, Lorraine. Thank you!

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