On writing: Allowing the magic to unfold naturally

Once I told a French person that we keep our Camembert in the fridge. That, ahemactually, you can’t buy unrefrigerated cheese in any grocery store in the U.S. (None I know of, anyway.)

She said:

“A cheese is alive. The refrigerator is a murder of the taste of a cheese.”*

A few years later, I was in a writing class.

A fellow student (not the French person) was telling the class about the story she’d written, that she was about to read aloud. Her eyes flashed and she grinned and chatted and held our attention.

That’s why it was so striking when, as soon as she began to read her piece, she turned into a refrigerated cheese.

She read beautifully loud and clear. But the writing itself did not reflect the aliveness of her speaking pattern nor her idiom. The charming way she threw words around in conversation? Nowhere to be found.

I say that not to criticize her but because she taught me something. As writers, we can make mistakes, but we can also refuse to let things happen.

This fellow student had it all inside her – anyone could see that from the way she spoke about the piece before she read it. But she hadn’t allowed it onto the page.

Who knows why? Who knows if she even noticed? But she put herself in the fridge, which drained all her yumminess away.

Stay out of the fridge, is what I’m saying.

How? You can’t force yourself to be natural. “Forced naturalness” is a contradiction in terms.

But there are ways to recognize you’re putting yourself in the fridge, and ways to step out of the fridge once you’re in there.

1. You know you’re putting yourself in the fridge if you’re editing yourself before the words go on the page. Let the words out first. I swear to you, you will be able to delete words you don’t like later.

2. Open up an email draft and write to a particular friend, colleague, person you know. Don’t send it – just have that person in your mind’s eye as you write. That can loosen you up a bit. Just don’t pick anyone who is judgy and shuts you down. And if you don’t know anyone who doesn’t do those things, pick your pet. 😉

3. In other areas of your life, practice letting yourself. Let yourself ________.

(I can’t fill in the blank, but you can.) What don’t you let yourself do? Start letting yourself. Just for a minute. You can go back to restraining and restricting yourself later.



PS: Please continue to send me your Rookie Mistakes. Can you think of rookie writing mistakes you made in the past that you don’t make (as much) anymore? Hit reply and let me know. And thanks to those of you who replied last week, we are on our way to my goal of collecting 100.

Our connection is meaningful to me and I thank you for it.

* If you want to know more about the raging opinions on cheese in the fridge, you can find some good stuff here and here 

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