Every writer has inspiration and tricks of the trade so I thought I’d share one of mine here today: Ms. Frizzle.
Yep. Ms. Frizzle. I’ll explain:
If, like me, you were not in elementary school in the 90s (me, I was in high school wearing way-too-much-black eyeliner and kissing boys while listening to brand new Nirvana tapes, you understand), you might not have heard about The Magic School Bus. It’s a cartoon show about a magical teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her class on a Magic School Bus to strange and wonderful places. They travel through the human body, shrink to the size of bugs, travel in time to dinosaurs, go up into hurricanes, all kinds of exciting things as they learn about science. I discovered them when I was homeschooling my eldest a couple years ago and fell head over heels for the series (I’m a sucker for jokes with bad puns). The tinies adore the Magic School Bus and even though it’s a bit dated, we still watch the shows often. (You can catch the show on Netflix now.)
Anyway, one of Ms. Frizzles favourite ways to teach is to drop the kids into the middle of the experience and say “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”
I love that.
I have been in a bit of a rut as a writer since I finished “Jesus Feminist.” Some of that is pace of life and scheduling, absolutely. Life is a bit busier now than I like. But even when I do write, I feel….guarded. I feel like everything I say has to be edited within an inch of its life, I’m worried about who I will offend, I edit and edit until I have said absolutely nothing. I am cautious to the point of comatose.
As you may imagine, writing hasn’t been much fun for me lately. Instead of being a thrill of creation and communication, it’s become cautious and exhausting.
I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a (sometimes too) full life. But one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging is that I get to my whole self here: I get to love theology and Church talk, I get to write about mothering and family and marriage, I get to crack jokes at my own expense, I get to love Doctor Who and Call the Midwife, I get to love thrifting and knitting and pretty things as well as being a Jesus feminist, I get to be a homemaker who talks recipes and cleaning and laundry as well as a lover of literature and poetry and history and Girl Power, I love the local church and yet I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses about this stuff.
Obscurity is its own protection. When people read your stuff, you start to realise: crap, people are actually reading this stuff. And then you start to edit. And if you’re me, you edit until you are saying nothing. Or you edit until you don’t end up publishing anything at all.
So back to Magic School Bus. Ms. Frizzle has given me my new focus in writing this year: take chances, make mistakes, get messy.
I don’t want to overthink writing right now. I’ve decided to write like it’s fun again. I’ve decided to bench my inner critic – and ignore the thousands of Internet critics – and just write like nobody is reading it. (Which may end up happening.)
If I want to write about something, I’m going to write about it. No more overthinking, no more fear, no more worries about “what might happen” or if it “fits my brand.” Every time I am writing and I can feel my inner critic taking control away, I want to turn to The Friz: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And keep going.
As an example, that was a big reason why I wrote the post about “biblical marriage” last week. It was a bit of an experiment. The initial news story came up over a few days, and I thought, “God, I want to write about that, the old me would have written about that.” And I didn’t. I have begun to be afraid of my anger, afraid of my passion, afraid of being my whole unedited self. Sometimes I think that I couldn’t write half the brave stuff I wrote in “Jesus Feminist” now because I have all the caveats and “but-what-abouts” and critics in my head too much. Now I have something to lose perhaps.
But then I sat back and remembered Ms. Frizzle: I want to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” And I just banged out that post in an hour on a Monday morning because I wanted to do it – heart in my throat and fully alive – because I was passionate, because I believed in it, because I thought it mattered to me. I took a chance (and yes, I ticked off a lot of people – I’m still being burned in effigy across the Internet for it), I made some mistakes with it (absolutely), and I made a mess (the blog crashed, it was uncomfortable, the post created tension).
And you know what? It was freaking brilliant.
Imperfect, messy, uncomfortable but I felt alive again. I felt like I said something, like I created something, like I ignited something, and it was awesome. Even if it didn’t matter to anyone else, the experience of it mattered to me. It wasn’t just about the topic – even though of course I’m passionate about that topic – it was also about wanting to write something and, instead of talking myself out of it with all the logic at my disposal, I said, “to hell with it” and I wrote anyway.
I want to do that more. I want to just write when the mood strikes instead of worrying about “best times for posting” and “driving engagement” and “consistent branding.” I want to be able to get angry. (I’m not afraid of my anger in my life – why should I be afraid of it here? Often our anger is an invitation to do something.) I want to be able to be sentimental and foolish, naive and inclusive again. I want to write blog posts instead of free content for Facebook disguised as status updates, I want to write my second book! I want to create and make art and disrupt and rabble-rouse, I want my art to reflect my life.
Once you open the door, it’s true: to whom much is given, more will be given. My brain is positively teeming with ideas again, it’s like being drunk with words. I want to write about the hard things of mothering and the glorious moments of transendence and joy. I want to write about trees being cut down in my back yard and favourite recipes and fashion, I want to write about knitting and Sherlock and the way the sun descends in the late day and inspiring Jesus feminists. (“Write all the things!“) I want sh*tty first drafts and imperfect arguments, I want sloppy love and awkward silences. I want cold mountain air instead of quiet formal living rooms.
So here’s to my writing muse, Ms. Frizzle.
Here’s to taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy again.