“For what we write today slipped into our souls some other day when we were alone and doing nothing.”
— Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write
Oh, how I love a good quote. The best ones come out and grab me round the heart when I’m least expecting it, like this one did earlier today while I was continuing my read-through of Ueland’s writing book.
It’s so true, and so important to the writing process. Most writing doesn’t happen the instant we are experiencing what we eventually will write about. Most writing happens well after the fact, after the tortoise part of our brain has had time to catch up with the hare part — the part that’s zipping through life from one thing to the next. It’s the tortoise, not the hare, that does the hardest work, the methodical work, while the rest of us is doing something else, like washing dishes, driving the kids to school, buying groceries, having lunch with a friend.
It’s actually pretty amazing, if you think about it. What other job is mostly accomplished while you’re not actually doing anything at all, or, at the very least, not the thing you have set out to do in order to accomplish something specific? Of course, all other creative acts work in much the same way.
Writing, when it’s finished, may appear refined, but that’s not the way it comes at us initially. More often than not, it arrives in fragments. Our job as writers is to snatch up those bits and create order from them; to take those pieces of disjointedness and bring them together into something whole, something edifying, and on the best days, something lovely.
In the same chapter where I found this nugget, Ueland gives us permission to doodle, to while away some of our hours, to take walks and not have an agenda. This is hard for us, in our output-oriented society, but it’s imperative for the writer who wants to create something meaningful, and not just something that is a simple regurgitation.
There’s a beautiful energy that is utilized within the act of writing. It’s an energy that is constantly changing, requiring both output and input. Sometimes it can be draining, but often, it’s exhilarating, especially when a piece is finished and you realized you’ve helped bring order to a mess.
So twirl your hair, get a cup of something warm, throw a load of clothes into the washer, look out the window, rearrange your files. When you’re “diverted” in this way, when you think you’re wasting time, it’s likely the very thing your tortoise needs in order to roll around a bit in his shell, settle on some conclusions, and prepare to slowly spring his revelations onto you.
Go ahead and let the tortoise have his way, and don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. It’s all part of this awesome process called writing.
Q4U: What are the ways you allow your ideas to germinate?