How Not to Write. How to Write.

I love this topic, because I know so much more about not writing than I do writing. Not writing is easy, and most of us do it all day long, for so many hours that we get very good at it, and I myself am positively expert. I’ve run into a couple of folks who will say, with a straight face, that writing is such an imperative for them that they have to force themselves to stop writing in order to do things like eat and sleep. I’m not saying they’re lying. In fact, I’m sure they’re not. But if you’re like me, while you love writing, living gets in the way far too often, and at some point it becomes so painful to think about all the not writing you’re doing that you start to to think maybe you’re not really a writer at all.

If so, I’m here to tell you what I tell myself when my laptop starts looking like a strange device from a parallel universe: Living is actually very important to writing.  In fact, it’s the second most important thing to writing besides actual writing. Where else are you going to get your writing material than from the experience of living??? Nowhere, that’s where! Stop rolling your eyes! I can see that, you know, right through this alternate-universe magical doohickey. So what if this is a bunch of bullshitty pap I spout to make myself feel better when I get sucked into the Life Vortex. It works! And in case it helps you, too, I hereby offer my handy guide to How Not to Write, and its corollary, How to Write:

How Not to Write:

  • Exercise. Preferably outside. Walk, run, bike, play tennis. Chase the cat. Hang Halloween decorations in the oak tree without using a ladder. Do it in the rain, because rain makes everything better. (Shhh. I live in California. We fetishize rain.)
  • Cook. Make something you’ve never made before, like baba ganoush, or chocolate salami, or Froot Loops with orange juice. Tell yourself that mixing Froot Loops with orange juice counts as cooking, because it does.
  • Drive. Sit in the front seat in your invisibility cloak and listen to the tweens sharing secrets in the back. Wonder what the couple in the next car is fighting about. Think about who might be day-drinking in the 2 AM Club, and whether you know them.
  • Read. Read Dickens, Ivan Doig, Elizabeth George, J.K Rowling. Read the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and People. Read your daughter’s college essays, which are so brilliant and earnest they will make you weep.
  • Go to the movies. See The Martian, or Train Wreck, or Sliding Doors.  See whatever’s playing at the theater closest to your house, even if it got a crappy review, because you never know.
  • Watch something happen. Watch your son play baseball, or your daughter ride a horse. Watch your neighbor weed-whack his shrubbery, smoking a cigarette, at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. Watch your mother peel the potatoes even though her joints are swollen with arthritis, without complaining about how much it hurts.
  • Make love. Do it in the hot tub. Okay, don’t do that; that’s gross. Do it on the chaise lounge next to the hot tub. Make sure the neighbors can see.

How to Write:

  • Exercise.
  • Cook.
  • Drive
  • Read
  • Go to the movies.
  • Watch something happen.
  • Make love.

See? Don’t you feel more productive now? I know I do!

Of course, you do still have to put it down on paper at some point. But if you have one of those days (or weeks, or months), when all that other stuff keeps you away from your work, try doing what I do, and remind yourself that it’s all work. And it’s the best job ever, even when you’re not, well, doing it.

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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. Right on! I feel the same way about making photographs. Perhaps the same for every creative endeavor…the essential ingredient to making art is life. And with that, I’ll take myself over to the pool. And then weed the garden.

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