Cathy and I decided to make a little weekend getaway after the Fourth of July, so we headed up to Ohio Amish Country. We love the rolling hills there, the sight of haystacks in the pastures, the cows and sheep and goats, the sound of horseshoes clip-clopping over pavement as a horse and buggy passes. We were surprised to learn that the Amish are favoring bicycles as a mode of transportation these days. On Friday evening, as we drove into Berlin at dusk, we encountered a steady stream of bicycle and buggy lights in what used to be known as the gloaming, that twilight time when we hover between day and night. Whenever I’m in this part of Ohio, I feel like I’m close to stepping from one world into another. I feel like I’m drifting between the world I live in now—a world of speed and haste—and the one my southeastern Illinois ancestors occupied before rural electrification, a world of lantern light and horse-drawn plows. Cathy and I connect to Ohio Amish Country via our rural roots. Driving the curvy hills, always vigilant for buggies, we feel our hearts slow to an easy pace. We open ourselves to the land around us and wait to see what might be just around the bend.
Take yesterday, for example. We drove from Berlin to Sugarcreek, otherwise known as The Little Switzerland of Ohio. Population: 2,220. One of Sugarcreek’s claims to fame is the fact that it’s the home of one of the world’s largest cuckoo clocks, a clock in the center of town that was featured on the 1977 cover of The Guinness Book of World Records. The clock, which is the size of a small house, is fully functional, sounding each hour and half-hour. Cathy and I happened to come out of a shop at 12:28. We noticed a small gathering of people standing on the corner, and we realized the clock was about to sound. So, of course, we joined the folks who were waiting, their camera phones at the ready. What good timing, we said (pun intended).
Too often, writers wait for just the right time to sit down and write, believing that one must be inspired or otherwise called to the page. This is, of course, nonsense. There is no right time to write. There’s only writing to be done at a specific time. Habit becomes creative, which is to say we produce more when we produce regularly. We have to be present to see what might happen. Every Sunday, I sit down to write this blog. I rarely know what I’m going to write about. I usually just start with some specifics from the world I occupy and see where those details might take me. In other words, I’m not waiting for the cuckoo clock to go off. I’m making it go off by being present and by putting words on the page.
My main point is this: you can spend a lifetime waiting for the “right” time to write. If you believe in muses and inspiration, you surely must know how fickle they are. I’d rather trust in perspiration than inspiration. I’d rather set aside a regular time to be at my desk, putting forth the effort, knowing that if I can do that—if I can tell the muse I’m going to do this with or without you—I’ll be more receptive to the worlds I’m creating on the page, and, as a result, I’ll produce more. Writing is self-generative. The more we do it—and the more regularly we do it—the more easily we slip from this world into the world of imagination. The thinner the membrane becomes between the here-and-now and the creative expression we all have within us. If we can be more regular with our writing habit, we’ll be more able to slip through that membrane in the precious hours we spend at our labor.