Let’s talk about process. Let’s pull up the shades and let some air in and console those of you who, like me, have no idea how to do this, because you grew up in a very uptight family, where people kept stiff upper lips and sat in duck blinds for whole days at a time, freezing and taking tiny sips from a flask while they waited to shoot a Canada Goose right out of a hard blue autumn sky. In that world, either the ability to write happened to you by accident– maybe you were bi-polar, or alcoholic, or one of your parents was a painter or a composer or even a writer, so you kind of osmotically got it, or you were, like Stephen King, a natural. If your answer is none of the above, you didn’t get the skills. And then, when you finally asked your teacher in grad school how to become a writer, he said the ability to write is a gift. If you don’t have it, nobody can help you.

Part of my mission in life is to refute that assumption. Anybody can learn this art of making a story, the same way anyone can learn grammar, or running, or jump shots. There’s no right way, or one way, but there are lots of tried and true habits that can help. Including: you must read, and watch movies, and harvest the best parts– the aha moments when you think, wow, I never saw that coming, when the book reverses itself, and you realize that every single character is actually a ghost.

I have been reading On Writing (again), and I am dumbfounded by Stephen King’s craft. He describes the girl he used as a model for Carrie, bringing her vividly to life: a homely girl who came to school one September with completely new clothes, looking pretty for the first time. Instead of welcoming her into the fold, the other kids started tormenting her more aggressively than they ever did before. He summarizes the situation with a metaphor so succinct it stopped me short: she made a break for the fence, and the group took her down, that’s all; once the social order was restored they left her alone. He writes with the grace of Michael Jordon, making the shot look effortless. What you don’t think about is how many years of practice he put in. He has been writing every day since he was ten, continuing without a break for his entire life.

Finished “On Writing.” Finally came to the conclusion that Stephen King is a congenial enough guy, but also a bit of a bully. Dispensing homey, kitchen wisdom that seduces with its lack of syllables and art— “cat got your tongue?” “wouldn’t shake a stick at–” The language is so friendly you might be tempted to think he’s your friend. But what he’s really doing, the subtext, is drawing a careful line in the sand, a circle around real writers, the ones who get it, or have it, and keeping everybody else outside.

What I have been doing: chewing compulsively through writer blogs— writers talking to each other, talking about writing, talking about their books, writers giving helpful advice. Most of them make me want to quit. Stephen King writes a nearly perfect book about writing and after reading it I’m ready to hang it up for good. Everything he says makes him seem so much smarter than I could ever hope to be, intimidatingly smart, his homey, small town dialect notwithstanding. And then he writes, if you aren’t enjoying yourself, don’t write.

My chest caves in with despair and lack of air. Some writers enjoy doing this. (Why? Because they were well-liked as children? Because they aren’t perfectionists? Because they have such huge egos they actually believe perfection can be attained, or has been attained, by them? Because they have practiced long enough? Because they have Aspberger’s?) However it happened, writing is so much fun for them that when they aren’t writing they share helpful tips, starting with, writing should be fun.

I am blessed to have a peaceful marriage, to a person that I really, truly, love. Steady, daily love, the good stuff, a person I am glad to see every morning after more than thirty years. I don’t have the same juju with writing, which turns out to be the great, unrequited love of my life. Every day has felt stolen, wrestled, cajoled, torn, cobbled. Every day I ask myself, should I have been a therapist? A teacher? A lawyer? I keep trying to change, but in the end, that’s the writer I turned out to be. Stephen King writes because he can’t not write, because he enjoys writing too much to stop. I fight to write, every day, against relentless doubts and fears. I write like somebody leaning into strong headwinds, trying to make it home without a coat or a compass. I write lost, and frostbitten, and terrified— when I am not hiding under my covers, taking a nap, planning alternate careers. I am not brimming with stories. I am a slow drip. I answer no to every “You are a writer if…” question on every internet quiz I have ever taken.

But still. There are all these years. I’m still here. Could we count those years for something?

I want to say, to myself, to all those other writers who might be out there, tormented and tongue-tied, not having fun, dreams buried under too many obligations and distractions and negative self talk: don’t give up. You’re still here.