At some point in every workshop, I invariably talk about MAKING CLAY.
Wait, isn't it a writing workshop? Let me explain.
A few years ago I was privileged to take a really incredible workshop with a sculptor in Galisteo, New Mexico. Judy Tuwaletsiwa is a brilliant, warm and wise artist whose studio is on a beautiful parcel of land with old cottonwoods that lead down to a dry creek bed. The group of us were welcomed into her spacious studio where she had paper-covered tables laid out with pencils. She led us in an exercise of deep listening and we all drew on the paper, the sounds of soft scraping graphite filling the room. A while later she passed out lumps of wet clay. We were to play with the clay and make a note whenever an image or idea emerged from the grey, damp mass in our hands. We then wrote stories based on these prompts. It was a wonderful exercise and everyone was moved. The thing that really struck me though, and this is where I'm going, is that most artists have a material to work with to make the thing they want to make. Sculptors use clay (or glass or steel or whatever, you get my point), painters have paint and whatever surface they're working with, dancers use their bodies, actors have text and so on. Writers, though. Writers have to make the stuff that they're then going to write with. They have to make their own clay.
No matter where an artist is in their life or career, this is the greatest challenge--making the clay. And we must trust that that dull, shapeless blob of text that we're writing--call it a rough draft, if you like--has within it the ideas, beauty and depth that we are looking for. And that the clay will lead to the novel, the play, the essay, the memoir.
So many of us have judgments about what we make, or we're hung up on the gulf between what COMES OUT OF US and what we know we're capable of. To be able to sit at the blank page, or screen, and just poop it out, well, it takes courage. Can you write when it's not good, when it's not what you want it to be, when it's ugly or stupid? Can you give yourself the gift of writing without critiquing or judging or wishing it were somehow different? There will be time to make things beautiful. That's the easy part, really. But, when we sit down to begin, we're just making clay.