Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Without Writing

Roman Wall, London
This week has been what I thought was an off-week.  I've not spent any time in the library, have done no research and hardly any writing, apart from my regular journal entries.  I have spent almost the entire week in some park in Bloomsbury: Russell Square, Gordon Square, Tavistock Square, St. George's Gardens.  I've been reading novels and listening to experimental music.  I've been musing, fretting, crying, and feeling the cool rain on my face.  I've walked through Kensington drenched in the rain, in fact, from head to toe.  I've walked through the City, leading a group of bored twenty-somethings along the ancient Roman London Wall.   I've spent hours sharing thoughts and ideas with my best friends, 4500 miles away. 

But I have accomplished nothing.

And right there, that's the lie, do you see it?

The truth is that I have accomplished a great deal this week.  I have seen and felt and thought. 

It's true I have a project due in a week and I haven't written a word, until today that is.  Today I've already typed 1000 words, and I'm still on a roll.  I was frustrated with myself all week long because I had nothing to show, no time researching, no time writing, and so no words.  I forgot that I had in fact been writing all week long. 

What is writing?

It's dawned on me before, but  it hit me again today, that writing is not simply putting words on paper.   I can't just force myself to write 200 or 500 or 1000 words a day.  For me writing is not actually the answer to writer's block.  For me writing is collecting.  I spent all week collecting ideas and when it came to getting them on to paper, they were there, ready and waiting.  

I don't write fiction.  Yet.  (Haley is the fiction expert around here.)  But I have been writing academically for the last 9 years, will have two Masters degrees and be starting a PhD this fall, and I am finally feeling comfortable in my writing process.  There's still a lot I have to learn about writing, and I'm still developing my own style and voice.   The greatest thing I've learned though is that creativity simply cannot be forced, for me at least, but I haven't met any people who feel differently.   

Slow down, you move too fast

Writing is about expression, whether that is telling a story or explaining a cultural phenomenon, and in order to express we have to allow our brains to process, ruminate, experience.  For years people have compared cultivating the mind with cultivating the earth, and I agree with the analogy (to a point).  In fact, I've been reading a blog about farming recently, and this post, about the patience and planning farmers need to have when acquiring a new piece of land, taught me a lot about how I should approach my writing.  Plan, think, give it time and space.  Read read read.  (I know we've said this before, and recently, but READ!)  Prepare the soil.  No matter how strong the seed is, if it goes in bad soil it can never grow. 

I'd also like to make my own metaphor:  A roasted turkey tastes much better than a microwaved turkey, even if both are cooked all the way through.  Get it? Your writing is the turkey.  It's not about word count, it's about how tasty the meat is. 

Writing can be a frustrating process, but it can also be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you do.  We value instant results and instant gratification these days, but when it comes to our writing we should value quality.

I know many of use work under strict deadlines. Taking our time is not always an option. But many of us are just starting out and feel frustrated because we aren't improving as quickly as we like. To those I want to say, it's ok, keep at it, don't ever stop writing, and remember that even when you're not putting words to paper, you can still be writing, collecting, imagining, and preparing for a bounteous harvest.    

Tell me about your writing process.  What do you do when you feel stuck?  Do you have a particularly strange way of writing that doesn't always involve typing up words?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 

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