On writing

I’d like to say that I have been working non-stop, with full attention, for the past seven-plus weeks. Of course this isn’t true, but it would be nice. I read all the time, and just about anywhere. I regularly get good reading done on the train. This isn’t terribly surprising to me. I practically came out of the womb reading. Watching too much TV wasn’t an issue for me as a kid; the problem was staying up all night finishing the book I was reading. But writing is a different story. I feel like my capacity for writing ebbs and flows, such that it sometimes feels really fickle. Some people apparently think this has to do with “finding your muse,” but somehow this rings false to me. Maybe this reflects the difference between creative writing and academic non-fiction writing. I do almost exclusively the latter. Waiting for inspiration to come down from on high seems like a pretty poor way to plan, and when I’ve got a looming deadline for a twenty-five page paper (today, in fact), this waiting turns into worrying, which then descends into panic.

When “the muse” does arrive, however, writing often flows so naturally you’d think you were born to be a writer. Words begin to effortlessly populate the page, and before you know it you’ve got five more pages than you did two hours ago. This happened for me last night. I started writing at 9pm. Before I knew what had happened, it was past midnight and my paper was complete. By 1:45 I finished my first complete editing pass and crawled into bed. It was a kind of trance experience, when almost nothing entered my consciousness other than the work at hand.

There are three lessons here, I think. One is to be diligent about research. Hammering out twenty-five pages is much less daunting when I can refer to a detailed outline I prepared for myself beforehand and have all of my sources well organized. Another is to take full advantage of the times when I’m “on.” I seriously considered going to bed early last night, as I had a long day and felt pretty tired. But once the words started pouring forth, I decided to stick with it as long as I could. I wasn’t disappointed with the results. A third lesson is to write often, even if it is non-academic. One of the reasons I have started blogging again is simply to write on a regular basis, so that when the Blank Page yawns before me I can more easily begin to fill it. Like any skill, the more you practice the better you get. Hopefully this practice will increase the frequency of “on-ness,” or, put another way, will help me make friends with my muse.

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