Monday, September 22, 2014

On Not Writing

 I have something to confess. The previous sentence is the first non school or work related thing I've written in at least two weeks. When I returned to school at the end of the summer I had all sorts of grand plans to get up early and do my writing for an hour every morning before my classes start.


Oh, I still get up early. I just haven't been writing. I've been doing my homework. Because I have evening classes almost every week day. And that would be okay, except that I have morning classes too.

I know. I, too, am stunned by my brilliant schedule making skillz.

And I know this sometimes happens. Sometimes life gets in the way. Whether it is over-work, illness, or emotional crisis, sometimes we simply cannot write.

And for a few days it's okay. Maybe even for a week. Then . . . Then a certain feeling starts to settle in. I know Susan feels this too, because we've talked about it. This feeling isn't merely anxiety about my career (though, God knows, I feel that). It's more of a sort of shiftless discomfort. A restlessness that doesn't allow me to settle in contentment on any one task. I am discontent with my life, with the world, with those around me. It is too empty, too grey. The brilliant colors start to leach slowly out of the fall leaves, until they also are grey and in the rush of things to be done and tasks to be checked off my list, I forget that I should notice them.

One day this summer I went to lunch with one of my non-writing, extroverted friends and tried to explain this feeling to her. Her concerned response was: "Oh my God, do you think you've become addicted to it?!"

I think I was too stunned by this utter breakdown in communication to be able to say anything coherent for a minute or two. Then I muttered something about "being pretty sure that wasn't it" and changed the subject, still entirely befuddled as to how that could have been what she got out of my description of the passion I have for my art. I still don't know. She's a very practical person. I love her anyway.

It wasn't till later (this may be why I'm a writer an not a public speaker) that I was able to articulate what exactly I should have told her. What I should have said is this:

"No, it's not an addiction. But, having gained my sight, I don't wish to return to blindness."

When you write, you have to take each moment slowly. Each new setting must be acutely observed so that the reader can see what you see. So you must know what you see. You must stop and look and decide what is important. I find that this practice extends to the rest of my life. I see the colors vibrantly because I'm thinking about what they are and how I would write them.

Over the summer I had the pleasure to read Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. It's part memoir and part thoughtful guide to the writing life. In this book she often discusses the "Discipline" of a writing or artistic life. Not just a schedule or a word count goal. A Discipline. Some amount of work you do every day even when you don't feel like it to keep your mind and writing muscles continually in practice and ready for the Work. That's how she talks about it. The Work.

I've heard other people talk like this. Mostly they were great painters, martial artists, and monastics.  

With my time full of little tasks, sometimes I forget that I am not only trying to write a book, but trying to shape my life. I want a writing life. I need one. Because without it everything is grey and I forget to look for what is wonderful on this earth.

Writing isn't optional for me. It's how I breathe.

So, I guess I know what I'll be doing tomorrow morning.


  1. Of course you would experience this in visual terms. As I reflect on how non-visual my experience of not writing is, I am, for the thousandth time, so glad that we found each other.

    I have been writing in the morning, but sometimes it is really hard to be firm about not doing homework or studying instead. It's taken some readjustment of the way I think about writing to set aside a specific time and treat it like a commitment that can't be cancelled or compromised. Even if I won't have my homework done. Even if I won't ace that quiz that's happening in an hour. I don't succeed all the time, but the fact that I'm thinking about it this way, I hope, is a sign of improvement.

    And haha, yeah, addiction is a really confused way to describe it. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't seem so difficult if it were an addiction.

  2. I really think writing can be an addiction at times when it's going well, but at other times it feels like a burden. We wanna write more to be as good at the others, because we know we shouldn't compare and we still do. I think it deals with priorities too. If your school work comes first, we understand. Some days, working two jobs comes first and I don't get any writing, but I don't want to give up a dream. I don't want an addiction, but I do want a dream.

  3. I'm absolutely all the way with you on this one, Tyler. I have major battles with comparison - that sounds silly, but sometimes if I read an amazing book or hear of an author friend achieving great success, I find myself slipping into a ditch of self-doubt, which in turn leads to no writing, which creates a bit of a vicious cycle.

    I would say I'm addicted to writing, too - it's as much a curse as a blessing, I think! I think the best we can do is get words on paper, make the most of our talents, and chip away at the bigger picture one sentence at a time. Great post! :)

    -- Caitie

  4. Too well do I know that gray anxiety. The spaces in between writing can get pretty rough, particularly the longer those non-writing spaces stretch.

    NaNoWriMo in November and its "Camp" counterparts in summer have been my compromise, these last couple of years -- just two or three months, scattered throughout the others, when I make churning out new work my top priority, hitting and striving past my daily word goal whatever it takes. It's intense, but for me, it's necessary, because I'm a "dessert last" kinda gal, putting everything else I have to do in front of what I want to do most. It's solid discipline gone rogue. Someday I hope to find a better balance. Here's hoping you find yours, my friend.