"All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness"
I’ve just not had the headspace of late to write – not to work on my manuscripts, not to write blog posts, not to tweet and barely enough energy to cope with that bookish face thing. There has just been Too Much Going On. Dramas with the build (over budget and over deadline), dramas with my mother (two car crashes in one month), dramas with selling the house etc. And I can’t write effectively when things are dire and I’m stressed to breaking point. Equally, in that state I’m not actually remotely inclined to write at all - unless it’s simply to splurge words onto a page just to get them out of my ever-cluttered head.
But here’s the thing: I regularly hear my writer pals berate themselves for not getting on with their writing. They may feel they’re wasting time, they may think they’re slacking if they aren’t churning out words every single day. There’s this constantly nagging voice, it seems, screeching “Write, write, you must write at all costs or it will be hellfire and brimstone for you, you filthy slacker!” Perhaps it’s that Protestant work ethic on speed?
I know all the advice says you must write every day. But the thing is, sometimes the space, the mood, the timing are just not there. And frankly, I don’t believe in beating oneself up because one is not writing. It’s counter productive, and guilt never aided anyone’s endeavours. And simply put, as a writer, even if you’re not writing, you’re thinking. The mind doesn’t shut down just because words aren’t going onto a page. Oh no, the mind is constantly churning, jostling around ideas, whilst characters nudge each other for places in the queue. Just because you’re not writing, doesn’t mean you’re not working. That’s one of the joys (or agonies) of being a writer. The eyes are always watching; seeing images which inspire thoughts and ideas. We catch snatches of conversation, which may evolve into an entirely imagined ongoing conversation which morphs into a character, into a plot theme or a general idea. We catch a whiff of aroma and it starts a train of thought which turns into an unexpected scene. (This is why writers are always found armed with notebooks and bags full of pens.) We may not be writing, but that doesn’t mean we’re vegetating. Oh no, we’re dreaming, we’re thinking, we’re imagining, we’re conjuring. And that’s as critical to producing a story as the actual writing is.
I may be a lone voice here, but as far as I’m concerned, sometimes it’s okay not to write. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, sometimes it’s important not to write. For one thing, life always gets in the way and there will inevitably be days when something else takes precedence. But more critically, we need time to be and to think. And we need to allow ourselves the space to do that. I really do wish so many of my writer pals would back off and stop being so hard on themselves.
There is a time to write and there is a time to think – and the best thinking happens when you’re just Being – not doing anything in particular, not feeling pressurized by All That Doing. I’d also add that if one takes a slightly esoteric view, as I said to one of my lovely writer pals the other day, the whole notion of time, and particularly the notion of wasting it, is all about misconceptions. There is, quite frankly, only Now. And it's what one does with Now that matters. But here's the thing; whatever you do with Now, in this moment, is entirely perfect for this moment - no right, no wrong, just Being in the moment. (And it’s important to realise that being gentle and non judgemental with oneself is an important part of letting oneself Be.) So, that Being may mean writing and it may mean not writing. It may mean actively thinking, it may mean subconsciously pondering or daydreaming. Whatever it is that is happening in any particularly moment, is absolutely right for that moment and therefore completely okay.
So, go one, see what it's like, give yourself permission to not-write. I'm certainly giving myself permission to not-write for the next three months. That doesn't, however, mean there will be creative inactivity. Nope, there's no chance of that, not while I'm breathing anyway.
“Being is called the mother of all things.”
Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching