Not writing is an important part of writing. -Ann Patchett
The last two years have been extremely challenging for our family. We waded through serious health problems, COVID-19, the death of family members, and our messy relationships with each other.
In this period, I saw writing as an activity that I did or have to do, instead of a state I’m in, as what it has always been for me.
Writing is a place I go to for magic and wonder, for digging through books I can learn from, and for seeking better answers to all of my existential and trivial questions.
So when the heaviest of days came, writing goes to the end of my list. I couldn’t write, couldn’t think about writing, and even if I had new stories in mind, my spirit and hands won’t work together.
It makes me stop and wonder whether fellow writers find it easier or harder to write in times of adversity. For sure, I wasn’t alone in taking short breaks. Do people write better or worse in sorrow?
In the marvelous book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Liz Gilbert is all for writing in the name of joy. She had tired of stories of artists who went broke, drugged, addicted, boozed up deliberately for the sake of making art. Not that she dismisses it, she recognizes how real it is, but to her, it’s not the right path to follow. The tortured artist trope romanticizes suffering, encourages burnout, and treats those as effective channels for the highest form of creativity. Not for Gilbert.
The argument? Writing should not come from the darkest places of our being, but from the light in the human spirit. Writing, or any type of art created by the artist, is a gift from the divine, not a gift to be squandered and disrespected. The muse, or the genius, is around us, waiting to strike with inspiration.
Maybe this is why, whenever I go through a distressing time, I simply can’t bring myself to the desk. Lying down is much better than doing anything else (which you know is not true at all times). Writing my thoughts and feeling down require too much energy and I’d rather be lazy right now.
In my journals, I noticed I don’t have entries during days when my life was a disaster. Then, when I finally get the strength to clear up the murky thoughts in my head, I recount and write about them in the days that follow.
Ann Patchett, the American novelist, says, “Not writing is an important part of writing.” With over 15 books to her name, she admits to not writing every day because, like the rest of the human population, there are things to do at home such as cleaning up, taking care of the family, including their dog, Sparky.
Victoria Aveyard, the writer of the Red Queen series, recommends finishing the first draft (of a book) then editing after a break to keep the writer feeling motivated and inspired.
There are authors who follow a strict regimen of writing every single day to work on their novels.
Haruki Murakami writes every morning after a 10 kilometer run. Ernest Hemingway writes as soon as the first light of the sun comes out. Stephen King has a target word count of writing 2000 words per day.
Not to liken me to these giants, but I’m going with Patchett and Aveyard with the first option.
The stroke of genius and inspiration happens differently for every writer.
Taking breaks is essential for writers. No one says you need to write every morning like Murakami. There’s no rule or mandate you have to obey to write at least 500 words per day.
The thing is, you have the final say in how your writing process should be. Our personal lives (relationships, work, hobbies, etc.) inevitably intertwine with our writing lives.
Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do? To write what they observe, to give everlasting life to poetry, to share the imagined and collected stories brewing within themselves.
Whenever ‘life happens’, as we say, the time we give to writing may dwindle down to saving one or two useful quotes in our index cards or writing a quick outline, or no work gets done at all. That’s okay.
There are days when there’s just enough time in our hands for our craft, then there are months when we’re able to set aside other projects or change our priorities to make time for it.
Here’s what I’d like you, and myself, to remember.
Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way said, “If we don’t keep moving, we sink to the bottom and die.” You can stop writing but never quit. Hop back into the bus.
If we don’t keep moving, we sink to the bottom and die. -Julia Cameron
Remember what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird: “Maybe what you’ve written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. -Anne Lamott
I hope you never run out of reasons to write. I hope you don’t get eaten by feelings of guilt and resentment for yourself when you had to stop writing.
Grace is there so we can begin again.