My good hearted and energetic publicist sent me a note saying I should write a blog about writing. But I’m not sure what she means. Does she mean writing as a craft? As a chosen avocation? Or as a conscious attempt to scrub my soul clean? What aspect of a bad habit does she want me to share with those who aren’t addicted and can’t imagine what it is like?
Emily Dickinson comes to mind. Her universal mind observing, digesting, sharing spurts of genius from a small room in a small house located in small town America. She rarely left her home. But she read. She thought. She felt. And then she flung arrows of delicious verse over a dazzled world. I’ve never read her history, but what I do know about her is that she couldn’t help herself. The flame burned from within.
That’s how I know I am a writer. Not that I’m a great writer like Dickinson, or even a competent one––an author people would want to read and follow. But I too can’t help myself. If you get up each morning at five to put on your running shoes, and feel terrible when you don’t, then, I’d submit, you are a runner. It matters little if you do a four minute mile or it takes fifteen. What matters is the action, the thumping of your feet on pavement, breathing the air and monitoring the rhythm of your heart.
So, for me, writing has never been drudgery. Never will. Giving in to your addiction isn’t work in that sense of the word. Nor do I get tongue-tied––what they call writer’s block. I’d guess that my experience is akin to meditation, maybe yoga (although I have done neither), in that absorption comes with typing the first sentence as the world blurs around my desk. I’m taken to another dimension. My fingers sprint over the keyboard trying to get it down as my characters say and do and feel things that surprise me; they take me to venues as rich as my hometown, their personalities as real and diverse as the people who share my waking life.
When they speak, these friends on the page sometimes say god-awful things, and sometimes the wisest. Both inform me. I’ll end the day with a tidbit left in the last line or two, purposely unfinished . . . . their lives placed on pause, mid-stride, so that in the morning they can go where they intend to take me. Overnight, I’m anxious that things go well for them, knowing some will not survive; and I can’t wait to return to my desk and watch the saga unfold.
I suppose the cleansing power of rhythmic exertion, getting in the groove, as they say, is a well-known phenomenon. Which is true for the writer as well as the runner, and we both attempt to catch that stride, admittedly failing at times. But when we are in sync, the exertion can be an end in itself––ushering in the meditative quality of total absorption, the release from inhibition, often allowing the writer to venture down roads never trod, traveling further than he ever planned and refreshed by the effort.