I just got back from the Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, where for some odd reason the weather was much cooler and much rainier than here in Columbus, Ohio. So much for my plans to enjoy some hot, sunny days. That’s all right. Sometimes it’s better for a writer to delay his or her gratification.
I was on a panel yesterday about balancing work, life, and writing, and, as always, when I’m on a panel (surely this doesn’t just happen to me?), I heard myself saying things with a voice of certainty, when really I wasn’t certain at all. This is the way it usually goes for me. My Libra scales, seeking balance, cause me to see too many sides to the same question. I’m more of a person who wonders about certain things, hoping that the uncertainty of wondering might lead to considerations otherwise not possible, but I almost always fall victim to that panel persona of the one who knows exactly what he’s talking about. People in the audience are asking questions, after all, and we panel members are the ones who are supposed to know the answers.
The truth, though, is that sometimes I say something on a panel and later start to wonder exactly what I meant. I start to question whether I had any right to say what I did. I start to question, and I think audience members should do the same. They should interrogate the answers of the panelists, trying to see if those answers have any validity, knowing, of course that any answer from a panel member might make perfect sense for one person in the audience and still be bad advice for someone else.
So yesterday in the midst of a conversation about the importance of carving out blocks of time for writing and staying obsessed with a project so you can’t help but bring it to completion, I found myself saying that sometimes life gives us opportunities to rest and for the writer that can be a good thing because time away from a project can allow it to evolve in ways that it might not if we’re forcing ourselves to keep slogging along. Leaving the project alone for a while can give the unconscious parts of our minds a chance to do some work with the material in the same way that we work on our lives through our night dreams. The result, once we return to the writing, is usually something we’re more deeply attached to, moving through it now the way the dreamer does, by instinct, rather than woodenly trying to understand something through the logical parts of our brains. Simply put, we sometimes feel the material more deeply because we give ourselves permission to forget it.
Lordy Magordy! What kind of an enabler am I, telling people it’s okay not to write? The older I get, though, the slower I become with my writing projects. It’s not that I’ve lost my passion for the craft; it’s just that I’m more at ease with being patient, letting something steep, waiting longer for completion, hoping that the rests I take might in the end result create something thicker, more textured, more resonant. By the same token, I understand the importance of rest to make my writing seem fresh to me. Words, words, words: a lifetime of words. How easy it is to start to rely on the same tricks. When I was a younger writer, I could feel like everything I wrote was something I was making anew. Now, in what I’ll call my more mature years, I sometimes crave rest and silence. They help me see my material with new eyes. A good writing day can be spent daydreaming in my chair with no words put on the page. I feel, then, the same way I feel when I wake from a dream in the morning, like I have one foot in my real life and one still in that dream world. That’s how writing feels to me when it’s going really well, a happy blend of the conscious and the unconscious. More and more, I’m starting to see the importance of rest for keeping me in that place from which my freshest writing comes.
Do I still have books I want to write? Absolutely. To write them the way they deserve to be written, though, I’m willing to wait, to give them time to deepen. I have a novel in progress now that I’ve barely touched since my stroke last September. I’ve worked on essays instead. But now the season seems right for that novel. I find myself waking up with thoughts of it on my mind. I hear it calling to me. I hear it telling me I’m ready.