Reflections from the Well
On Writing Craft, Creativity & Inspiration
By Alexander Slagg
Returning from Fallow Fields
Recently, I went for a month without writing in my journal. This is normally a several-times-a-week activity. But I had a lot going on in my life, day-to-day obligations that were stacking up and teetering, ready to collapse on me if I didn’t address them. So I had to take a writing break and simply live for a while without thinking about or reflecting on any of it. When I finally returned to my journal, it was an interesting experience.
The first thing I noticed was how awkward it felt to push my pen across the page. In the Internet Age, I rarely have opportunities to exercise my penmanship. Writing, what was once an essential element of our daily lives, has now gone the way of say, knitting or hunting – activities verging on hobbies that are no longer common practices for most folks. Gone is the elegant curve of a cursive “F,” replaced by the hollow rap of a plastic keyboard square.
My hand felt stiff and my cursive letters were tight and stilted. The words could not flow at the speed of my thoughts. I grew frustrated with this slowness. I ruefully thought, when I was younger I never had this problem. I was the Michael Jordan of writing, all the parts of my game (my fluid “S,” the smooth contrail of my crossed “t”) working in sync.
My writing had clearly grown rusty – in just a month’s time. The poor quality of my writing was reflective of my state of being as I returned to the creative world – jumbled, harried, in a rush. Once I recognized this, I began to slow down and bring more consciousness to each letter I formed with my pen. My writing improved.
More interestingly, my mood improved. I no longer felt overwhelmed and on the run from life. I regained some perspective and control over it. The overcast gray world outside my window went from being depressing to intriguing, full of hidden possibility. The longer I sat and wrote in my notebook, the longer I wanted to continue doing it. The enthusiasm stoked like a fire.
At one point during my writing break, I entertained the idea that it was a frivolous pursuit. I should be content with being swept up in “actual” life and living it, rather than carving out time to reflect on it. We think a lot of crazy thoughts when life grows hectic.
For me, any form of writing is an act of reflecting on life. You are taking up your experience as a human being and considering it from a fresh perspective, whether it’s poetry, fiction, memoir, a screenplay or whatever. This experience of taking a break and coming back to writing reawakened the notion of what an essential experience this really is.
“Living” life and “reflecting” on life are not two separate acts, they are one in the same. Being able to reflect on our life experience is one of those things that makes us human. When we go without it, life becomes dull and monochrome. We are no longer fully experiencing the richness it has to offer.
If you are forced to take a break from your writing practice, go into it knowing that you will return to it the same way you inhale after you exhale. It’s an essential part of who you are and it will return to brighten your life again.
Touching on various aspects of the writing process, Reflections from the Well offers a literary lounge, where writers and other creators are invited to share their own experiences. Share your experiences with Alex for possible inclusion on the LWN blog or in his next reflection at firstname.lastname@example.org.