Thursday, March 5, 2015


What is going on when a writer is not writing?

You know what I am talking about.  Now that I have mentioned it, you realize that your favorite blog has not shown up in your mailbox for several weeks.   Or perhaps it is months.

Or you have been waiting and waiting for a new novel from your favorite writer.  You are missing her characters and their escapades that mirror yours. Or maybe it is the exotic locales to which you travel through her pages that you miss.

Perhaps the poet whose words you cannot live without has not published a new collection for quite a while. There has been no way for you to examine your interior landscapes or map outer-region observations without the words from this prophet who poetically turns everything inside out, bringing clarity to your world and naming your realities.

What is going on when a writer is not writing?

I have not been writing.
I am guilty.
At least I have not been writing the intended writing ... or  the "should-be" writing.

I am guilty of being absent from this blog for about a month now.  And the spaces between posts over time since I began the blog has stretched to a length that tortures me, haunts me..... chases me in the night, holding up idea after idea which I have not been able to pursue.

How long is the window on writing ideas?  Do they have a shelf life and have I missed out on some of these fleeting ideas forever?   See my earlier post, Expiration Dates, exploring these questions.

In the meantime,  I have been "out" living an extremely busy life.
You know what I mean... you are busy too... appointments, meetings, events, projects....
I am too tired to write when I finally get home... or so I tell myself.

I am a morning person, so if it doesn't begin in the morning, it is probably not going to happen.

In the meantime,  I have been working on my book outline for our  2015 Advanced Summer Institute in the Columbus Area Writing Project.  And I have been writing responses to thoughtful reflections, questions, and suggestions from those who will be writing chapters for this book I  will be editing.

I have also been procrastinating,  a process which I have turned into a high art. See my earlier post, Procrastination and Writing, which details all the ways I manage to write and not write at the same time.

One of the most productive activities, in which I have engaged during this time is reading--- reading about "the writer's life."

 The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo was just what I needed during this period, as I reassessed my life as a writer.   It was suggested by a member of my writing group.  I already had it on my iPad, but moved it up to next on my To Be Read List.

In this meditation on the writing life, DeSalvo gives us glimpses and gulps of  real writers' lives and processes-- famous writers, some we may not know, classic writers, as well as contemporary.

  (This book)... is based not upon how I believe writers should work, and not upon how I work, but upon decades of research into the writing process and the work habits of real writers. If we understand the writing process, learn how real writers work, and use that information to develop our unique identity as writers, we'll transform our writing lives.

As we read how these writers write, research, persevere, and sometimes fail, we find these reflections to be invitations, as the author suggests in the introduction:

...invitations for us to think about specific techniques we can use to enter the slow writing life; find ways ways to deal with the emotional pitfalls-- fears, anxiety, judgement, self-doubt--that inevitability accompany our work; delve into what it means to live a healthy and productive creative life; and celebrate our tenacity and our accomplishments.

I am still considering DeSalvo's idea of slow writing:
I'd begun collecting anecdotes about how slowly many famous writers and artists worked.
..."slow writing" doesn't just take time, but makes time."  Slow writing is a meditative act: slowing down to understand our relationship to our writing, slowing down to determine our authentic subjects, slowing down to write complex works, slowing down to study our literary antecedents.
Slowing down...

Even as I am still digesting the helpful, encouraging, and challenging words in this text, I wanted more of the same.   So I turned to another book in my To Be Read Pile.

Curiosity's Cats: Writers on Research edited by Bruce Joshua Miller proved to be the perfect  companion book.

Like DeSalvo, Miller also gives us peeks into the processes and postures of writers-- this time as they engage in and reflect on research for a variety of types of writing and final products.  He introduces his work:

  ...(this) is a book about context, primary sources, and the indispensable value of libraries and archives as repositories of original books, documents, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, photographs and tracts.
 He goes on to emphasize the importance of research in the life of a writer:

"I've heard, to often, the old admonition: write what you know," says novelist Margot Livesey in her essay,  He Liked Custard. "I was slow to understand that research could allow me to know more..."

Indeed as writers, we cannot write well without engaging in research.  I find this to be true, even to produce the shortest poem... or this blog.  And what a variety of ways we can find information, follow the trail of one fact, or trace the history or impact of one idea.

The essays in  Curious Cats take us inside this process from the varied perspectives of  thirteen very different writers.

As I return to my blog today, still pondering all that I have read and am still learning about the writing life, I am thankful always that I am a writer.   See my earlier post, Thankful I Am a Writer for all the reasons why and also  for several additional resources about about the writing life.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on your own writing processes, postures and habits.  

When do you write?  When is it difficult for you to write?
What helps you? What factors hinder you in the writing process?

When  and how do you engage in research?

Write an essay describing your  own processes and the value of knowing what other writers do. Include advice you deem essential for a beginning or struggling writer. 

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