Monday, December 26, 2011
Reflections from the Well
On Writing Craft, Creativity & Inspiration
By Alexander Slagg
It’s difficult for me to find time to write. I have a day job that drains my energy. I have children that need to be cared for and shopped for. I have a flat that needs occasional sweeping, a sink full of dishes that needs occasional emptying. I have a physical body that needs exercise and maintenance. I have relationships that need cultivation and pruning like garden flowers. And somewhere amid all of these basic routines and tasks, I need to work at my craft.
I’ve tried many approaches to scheduling writing time over the years, including mapping out a schedule in smudgy red ink on the refrigerator calendar. I’ve written first thing in the morning before the daily responsibilities hijack my thoughts. I’ve done it late at night, my bedroom lit by the blue glow of my computer screen. I’ve done it on the job, my story document hidden behind several open screens on my computer. I’ve written every day for months on end. I’ve written nothing for months and allowed my imagination to grow fallow.
What’s the best approach to a writing schedule? Whatever works best for you.
When I started taking my writing seriously, I worked as a bartender in the evenings and I spent my days reading and writing, or sitting on the backstairs watching the day go by. Day to day, I got a lot done. These days, I write when I can. I have more responsibilities today that take precedence over writing. That means I typically sit down to write 2-3 times a week, usually for only a few hours. In the future, that schedule will change again.
What I’ve learned not to do is become too rigid in my routines. I try to be like bamboo, flexible but firm. I’ve gone through deaths in the family, births, job loss, divorce—all sorts of life-altering experiences. And I felt compelled to focus my time and energy on those events and put aside the pen for a while. But slowly, and most definitely surely, I returned to the craft. Writing has often been my therapist, helping me process the bumps in the road of life. It’s what I turn to to make sense of it all. And it’s always there, whether it’s underlined three times on the calendar or not.
I’m also a believer in the idea that you need to be showing up to write whether the muse flies in through the window or not. You have to push yourself: No one is out there waiting for your first novel. The more often you’re sitting down to fire up your imaginative powers, the easier it gets and the stronger your creativity grows. It’s a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly. The more regularly the better.
And having said that, I also believe it’s a good idea to take a break and not do anything every once in a while. Allow that creative well to refill with life experiences and thoughts. If you believe in it, it’ll always be there beneath the surface, ready to quench that thirst. So which is it: Sit down and write regularly or take breaks from writing? It’s both. Do both firmly and with purpose.
Share your comments with Alex for possible inclusion on the LWN blog or in his next reflection at firstname.lastname@example.org.