By Valerie Peralta
Once upon a time there was an ordinary woman who wanted two things. She longed for a body that mirrored the svelte images she saw clad in bikinis on Instagram. A flat stomach flanked by taut arms and legs. And she desired to pen poems and stories that captivated the hearts and minds of readers the way Ada Limón and Yaa Gyasi’s words enchanted her. Yet, when it came to exercise, she was much like the hare in that oft told parable where the slow, steady steps of the tortoise win the race. And she possessed a sweet tooth not even Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory could satisfy. As for stringing meaningful words together, her attempts for publication met many a rejection from journals of note. But more than that, all too often her fear of not writing as she wished paralyzed her fingers from tapping the keys on a laptop or even grasping a pen.
To be fair, the woman attempted to achieve her dreams many times over the years. She completed a couple of half-marathons and a handful of triathlons. With the miles of training for each event, her body would take a form she found pleasing. And she learned valuable lessons from these endeavors: With consistent effort one can accomplish seemingly daunting feats. And, accountability is the key to sticking to a plan. One year she even took boxing classes. She followed the coach’s instructions religiously: attend three classes a week, limit sugary snacks and fried foods, and run on off days. Her thighs had never been so lean. Yet, because she did not commit to any of these activities for the rest of her life, as soon as she stopped swimming, biking, running and boxing and returned to her indulgent eating habits, layers of flab returned to her arms, legs, midriff, and tush.
Her goes at writing were even more fleeting. She swore she would follow the unofficial writer’s rule of drafting a thousand words a day. But the truth is she would get stuck somewhere between word seventy-five and one-hundred-twenty-four because she did not understand that a first draft is meant to be, as beloved Bird by Bird author Anne Lamott wisely proclaims, shitty. Instead, she would toil on the first three sentences for hours trying to make them perfect. Or, she would become distracted with research on the interweb. Or, she would rise from her chair for a cup of coffee and then decide to make a batch of biscuits to accompany the liquid intelligence. Of course, next she would wash the baking dishes, during which time she would notice the window above the sink needed cleaning, and then, feeling the warmth of the sunshine cascading through the window, she would venture outside for a “short” stroll to feel the breeze brush against her cheek, hear the birds sing, and inhale the sweet aroma of night jasmine from the neighbor’s vine that hung into her yard. Of course, she did not make vast strides in her writing life. Whether due to indolence, fear of failure, or genuine ignorance, she did not know.
As the heroine of this kind-of-fairy-tale-parable reached her fifth decade of life, she resolved to finally overcome the obstacles that were keeping her from the physique and writing skill she so desperately desired. She convinced the talented and generous editor of a dirt road driving, jelly jar sipping, Dollar General shopping journal of prose to allow her to write a quarterly column where she could chronicle her holy grail pursuit of becoming the waifish writing woman she’d always dreamed of being.
Unfortunately, her resolve, mostly extrinsic in nature, continued to yo-yo. Therefore, whenever she slacked on the couch and gorged on pints of Ben & Jerry’s instead of lifting weights and chomping on leafy greens, her backside spread and her belly rose like a triple batch of sweet roll dough. Still, she did not give up. A mere two months into a new year, she has trudged 387 miles of her 2023-mile annual goal.
And whether by accident or providence, one day, still striving to write like a goddess, the woman attended ChairmanMe’s “You Are not a Sh*tty Writer” workshop on Zoom. In that hour, Catherine Connors, Sarah Lacey and Paul Bradley Carr presented a prompt that would serve as magic for the persistent shero.
Move your voice on the page for five minutes.
It did not matter what the woman wrote. She merely had to follow the sage authors’ advice.
She did not find the practice hard, so she tried it again the next day, and the next, and the next, until one day she moved her voice on the page for forty-five minutes straight. At the end of that time, she had produced a first draft of an essay she hadn’t known was inside her.
Ever since then, whenever the woman is faced with a situation where she must write, her insides still quiver and she often delays by mopping her kitchen floor or online shopping for a dress she won’t wear until weeks after her deadline, but eventually she sits down with either a pad and pen or a laptop, whichever is most fitting for the assignment. Knowing she can trust her process, she moves her voice on the page.
Read Valerie’s other work here at Reckon:
Healthy Habits: When Disciplines Meet
Healthy Habits: Interdependence
Healthy Habits: Starting to Stick
Valerie Peralta is an intermittent practitioner of just about everything she does striving to be more tortoise and less hare. After copy editing for two decades, she’s finally trusting her own words on the page. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University; her work has been published by The Blended Future Project and is forthcoming in Heart Balm. She lives in South Florida within running distance of the Everglades.