What’s the story behind the inky pinky? Ask any left hander. We tend to be very, very particular about our writing instruments, and our paper. Either our penmanship or our hand position tends to be awkward. In my case, both would be true.
When I was younger, I wrote so much by hand that my left pinky bore a semi-permanent ink tattoo, and I developed a callous on my finger from the way I held my pen. I never remember writer’s cramp, or writer’s block. I have stashes of favorite pens, and a lifelong love affair with notebooks. A recent decluttering effort at home revealed fourteen (14?!) notebooks in a precarious pile near my nightstand. I must really worry that words are going to leak out of my brain at night and find themselves adrift without a notebook to cling to like some sort of literary life ring.
A while ago I realized that while I’ve been writing since I was about eight years old, and have never imagined a life in which I didn’t write, I needed a nudge. I took on a challenge recently of writing something — anything — every single day. It was about as appealing as going to the gym — you know, actually going there. It’s a great idea, and you know you should, and you get the really neat workout clothes, which in my case involved a great book of writing prompts, a pencil (a pen required too much commitment, to me, for this) and a cheap composition notebook, because I could get that one messy or dirty and it wouldn’t pain me to do it, and you get right up to the time you’ve set aside, and then…the excuses rolled in. There was never any “alone time.” Someone always needed something. I was working late. It was sunny. It was raining. It was sunny AND raining. (Hey, I live in Florida. It happens.) I was hungry. I was tired. I was busy. I needed to call my parents. I needed to work on paying work. I didn’t have anything to say about anything. I hated the daily prompt. I got lost in researching the origins of some obscure word or thought or quote in the daily prompt.
And the biggest excuse of all…who cared if I didn’t write that day, or any day? What difference did my voice make to anyone, anywhere? What did I really have to say, anyway? Those paralyzing whispers began to overtake my own voice.
I remembered a birthday gift we gave my oldest daughter when she was very young. It was a marvelous thing, a big box full of colorful plastic shapes and angles that could be assembled to make a marble maze. It delighted her for hours, and that night, after she went to bed, I could still hear marbles clicking and falling. Peeking around the corner into another room, I saw my husband engrossed in the marble game, assembling it any number of different ways and setting the marbles loose on their journey from top to bottom.
“Where are the instructions?” I asked when we opened the box. I couldn’t imagine a game so wonderful coming without directions on how to put it together. My husband laughed. “You don’t need instructions,” he said. “It’s a different game every time you put it together. There’s lots of ways to do it.”
It’s taken me a long time to begin to grasp this very basic concept: writing, and life, is a different game every time, and that is perfectly okay. There is no wrong way to tell your story. So I’m picking up the pencil, and the notebook, and rediscovering the amazing potential of the blank page all over again.