Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thanks For Not Writing

Ask most authors for their best writing advice and most will hand you the old saw, "You must write every day." They say that even when it seems impossible -- your only spare time is from 4-5am, you're hopelessly blocked, you're having brain surgery -- you must write something. Anything! And if you don't write every day, then clearly you're not committed or passionate enough. I've given this advice countless times and, for many years, actually taken it.

A friend of mine, a fellow author & teacher, once told me he didn't believe in this truism. After a few glasses of wine, he came out about the fact that he was on an extended break from writing, and that, despite some intermittent guilt, he'd never felt more creative, inspired or happy. He was alive again! Instead of straining his eyes at his computer, he was spending his time reading, taking walks, re-connecting with his family, and, every so often, working through plots and characters in his head. He was looking forward to a returning to his work one day, but until then he was "recharging." He argued that this recharging was crucial for his imagination and would ultimately make him a better writer.

My response: "Interesting theory." What I was really thinking: "So, he's not a *real* writer after all." And, feeling superior about my daily regimen of eye-straining and hand-wringing at my computer, I offered to pay for the wine.

Now, having not written a word of my novel for close to two months -- and even slacking on my blog responsibilities -- I am starting to see what my friend meant. My left-behind characters, who'd seemed stagnant and thin in April -- are beckoning me back, siren-like. I long to spend time with them, but instead of indulging that desire I daydream about what they might do and say. I'm back to what is most fun about writing: that sense of play and possibility. And though I could find some time these days if I tried, I might play hard to get with my book for a while. After all, that tactic does work in most other spheres of life.

Of course I could just be lazy. Or not a real writer after all. But my friend ended up writing two novels after his "recharging" period, so he's my new hero. And my new best excuse.

***

Just a few days ago I learned that one of my favorite poets, William Meredith, died on May 30th at the age of 88. I had the honor of meeting him a few times and hearing him read, and I am deeply saddened by his passing. He was an elegant, generous and accomplished man who will be missed by many.

I read a Meredith poem, "Crossing Over" at a friend's wedding last weekend, but here is another of my favorites:

The Illiterate

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think that this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
that keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

--1958

~Christopher Castellani

5 comments:

Lisa Marnell said...

Chris,

Thank you. Meredith's poem is lovely, and touching, and beautiful, mostly because it makes me think and feel and awakens a part of me that wonders. His pasing is a loss and it is good you share a blink of his literary brilliance with us.

It's so true, that "rule" you describe about writing every day. My eleventh grade English teacher, who was brilliant and unique, once told me that writing was 90% thinking 10% writing. Of course, I believed him at the time. Perhaps he was right.

Lisa

Crystallyn said...

Actually, there is substantial evidence about the importance of "incubation" when it comes to creativity and that's exactly what your writer friend was talking about. I just talked about this in my blog yesterday, in fact. Many researchers consider it to be one of the most important steps in the creative process.

I'm going through much of that myself--at least when it comes to creative writing. I write for a living so I'm not sure how that all works out since I actually do write something every day.

But seriously, stop feeling guilty or lazy and let the thinking seep in. I think regularly writing "something" is important, but that incubation process is also important--as your friend's two novels clearly indicate!

tammy said...

I agree. I think a goal of writing often (as opposed to everyday) takes some of the pressure off your creative mind. It needs a vacation, too.

Does any writer think that they're a "real" writer?

Diana said...

I agree that making yourself write everyday, through fatigue, sickness, emergencies, etc., makes writing a chore rather than something you want to do. I wonder if this "you must write everyday" attitude only pertains to American writers; after all, our culture is the one that overworks and thinks vacations are frivolous.
Thanks for the post!

RonC said...

Personally, I am very curious to hear about the daily writing (or non-writing, as the case may be) habits of you, Chris, and other fellow Grubbies.

I've never, ever considered myself a "writer" -- as I've only written one screenplay, and since then have been in a perpetual state of "rewrite", and really can't discipline myself to write every day -- but I dream about writing constantly and totally romanticize the notion of "being a writer".

It's just that I tend to be the kind of person who mulls the thing over, letting it build and build in my head, until I finally have to explode and regurgitate the thing all over the page. I don't have the discipline to do something - no matter how little - every single day. It's all or nothing with me -- which causes no shortage of anguish and angst.

So, anyway, when I'm in a "romanticizing about a "writing lifestyle" mood and all that, I often like to find out just how living, breathing, working (even if you're not being paid...) writers actually structure their day. I know everyone is different, but still, I'm curious. I already know I should throw out my TV, but... but... well, that ain't gonna happen, I just have to get more disciplined and structured.

Ok, enough rambling. Thanks for your comments.

Ron

p.s. and sorry that I haven't been able to play any softball this year...