Writing, huh? It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort. Your butt has to be in a chair. Bring a notebook everywhere you go. Write like a motherfucker.
Yes. Yes yes yes yes.
I truly believe in all of that. Not just for writing, but for anything that’s worth doing. Invest your time. Large chunks of it, if you can. If not, steal what little minutes you have: on the bus to your draining job, while sat up sick in bed. Take advantage of your chronic insomnia.
What about the time you are not writing? What if you set a little bit of time aside just for getting a story down on paper, or a poem (or, in my case, a 90 second pun-filled speech that I need to write by May 9th ) and you don’t get anything done? You balance a pencil on your nose. You take your dog out for a walk. You eavesdrop on stranger’s conversations on that long bus ride. Your friends want to go out for a drink after work and all of a sudden it’s 1am and you haven’t even opened up a word document.
Is that unproductive? Writer’s block? Have you wasted your time?
I have been a turtle all of my life. I hide in my shell. I move slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I am often overlooked. I am deliberate in my actions. I do not let go of anything I grasp until I am completely done with it.
It bothered me to no end for the longest time to see everyone else speed past me. Still does to some extent. For the most part I have become comfortable in my own shell. Here is what I have learned in my 28 years of moving slowly and steadily: There is more to creating than action.
There is the time spent inside your own head, the time spent becoming comfortable with your own self. How could you make something of your own without this? The only audience you ever have control over is the audience of you. How can you be satisfied with your work until you know what you will enjoy most? How can you make something meaningful without discovering the engine that fuels you, without experimenting with different power sources for that engine?
There is also the time you spend outside of your head. That time spent listening to conversations- paying such close attention that you not only understand what people talk about but how: the word choice and the cadence- is the only way you could ever learn to write good dialogue. How could you describe a tree to another person without carefully examining every strip of bark, every vein in every leaf? How can you have a vibrant cast of characters without having vibrant, diverse relationships in your life, relationships that need care and cultivation to thrive?
I remember, after reading from my thesis, being asked how long it took me to write a particular story. I remember saying “Two years.” What became my final very short story took me one afternoon to write from start to finish. There was a lot cut, but everything that remains was written in that first draft. I did the hard work of writing it. My fingers cramped, I killed my darlings, I did not move my butt. I worked until I was satisfied and then began the hard work of finding it a home.
But first I had to do the hardest work of all. I had to do the work of living. I had to sit very still and notice everything. I had to notice myself. I had to be okay with pulling my head far enough out of my shell to share my story. I had to make dear friends and advisors who I could talk to. I needed to tell someone how afraid I was to tell my own story and why. I needed them to tell me to shut up about it.
I needed to see with my own eyes that I wasn’t the only one of me that existed. That if I wrote down how I feel and what I see there would be someone else who understands. “You are not alone” is a hard lesson to learn. It is also one that you have to re-learn over and over again, every time you hide yourself away to write, or draw, or do whatever wonderful thing it is that you do.
It is hard to remember that you are actually doing something when you look at nothing but blank pages and see submission dates fly by. When you are getting too old to ever be on the “10 under 10” lists of awesome young writers. It is hard to remember- to be conscious of the fact- that sitting still is also listening and paying attention and gathering information and waiting. It is also living, and loving-or hating- something so much that you want to tell everyone about it. Write often, yes. Or draw or dance or act or paint or make spreadsheets. But don’t discount the quiet time when your page is blank and your mind seems clear. Hard work is being done.