Many of the aspiring writers I know talk about writing more than they actually write. Instead of setting free the novel or short story or essay that is sizzling at the ends of their fingers, desperate to set fire to the world, they fret about writer’s block or about never having the time to write.
Yet as they complain, they spend a whole lot of that precious time posting cartoons about writing on Facebook or putting up statuses about how if they only had more free time they just know they could get their novels written. They read books about writing and attend conferences, workshops and classes where they talk ad nauseam about writing. However, they spend very little time alone, thinking, much less hunkering down somewhere and actually putting words on the page.
The problem is, too many writers today are afraid to be still.
–Silas House, “The Art of Being Still“
Guilty as charged. In my frenzy over the last few months, I have neglected blogging.
It’s been hard to be still to write properly while in the process of working out my next career move and relocating. I’ve tended my draft thoughts by scribbling them alongside endless to-do lists or muttering them to friends in passing. Sitting down alone with my ideas and words, nurturing them take root on page to flourish or wither, has felt too draining.
Noncommittal notes and casual chat are not the most fruitful pastures to cultivate thinking.
But new employer, new geography, and new experiences beget me to blog again. Back to putting pen on virtual paper—and as House describes—learning simply by doing:
We writers must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.
We are a people who are forever moving, who do not have enough hours in the day, but while we are trying our best to be parents and partners, employees and caregivers, we must also remain writers.
There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.
This way of being must be something that we have to turn off instead of actively turn on. It must be the way we live our lives.
The No. 1 question I get at readings is: “How many hours a day do you write?” I used to stumble on this question. I don’t write every day, but when I first started going on book tours I was afraid I’d be revealed as a true fraud if I admitted that. Sometimes I write for 20 minutes. Other times I don’t stop writing for six hours, falling over at the end like an emotional, wrung-out mess, simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Sometimes I go months without putting a word on the page.
One night, however, I was asked that question and the right answer just popped out, unknown to me before it found solidity on the air: “I write every waking minute,” I said. I meant, of course, that I am always writing in my head.