Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Writing and being still

I was very glad to see this piece in last Sunday's NYT, on writing when you're not actually writing. I've said something similar, but I didn't realize it was, you know, a thing. The author, Silas House, calls these various imaginative practices "being still." He also emphasizes that this isn't just an artistic method but a way of being in the world.

The piece lined up, perhaps coincidentally, with that Sunday's Modern Love column. The writer, Teresa Link, describes her former husband's inability to comprehend that she was actually doing something (writing) when she was sitting in a riverbank, outwardly doing nothing.

I do wonder how many creative people are shamed out of the very work they hope or need to do by these kinds of misunderstandings. Often--at least in my case--we ourselves don't realize that we're working. We ourselves think we are being lazy, just daydreaming or brooding, when we're actually doing preliminary work to writing or painting or dancing or whatever. Both authors convincingly remind us of the extent to which first-world cultures, the US in particular, celebrate visible, physical, even frenetic activity. If you're a writer, that means you at least should be throwing down actual words on some actual document (digital or otherwise).

Which is probably why novice writers are usually advised to write every day, write x number of words every day, and don't get up until you've done it. You are lazy! You need discipline! Famous Author got up every morning at 3 to write, before preparing her children's breakfasts and then heading off to her job as CEO of Everything! And you can't even cough out a thousand words? Why, you forty-seven-percenter / slug!

Yes, I've used the thousand-word axiom myself, and found it quite helpful, especially at overcoming the dreaded Internal Editor. But I don't think we need the guilt that comes with "not producing," especially when there are other ways to be a productive writer. You just need to get the thing into words at some point. If the daily routine is not possible or functional for you--or not always--that could very well be just fine.

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