Writing in spite of the daily

Jan 20, 2013

It’s 4:30 am. It’s quiet enough for me to be able to hear the low gurgle of the refrigerator punctuated by the intermittent swishing sound of the heater as it’s coming on intermittently. The river is dark outside and the lights on the banks of the river are glowing like diamonds because it’s going to be a clear day.

The everyday sounds of the day in full blast are still mute. I can get in touch with a part of myself that turns my thoughts into writing.

Soon the business of the day will penetrate into my consciousness when I’ll have to become a functional human being. And within all that noise, I know I’ll be able to add, subtract, redo, edit, rephrase a lot of what I have already written. But to get to the core of that idea, I need silence and a part of myself that’s inaccessible to the everyday.

The older you grow, the more you realize how much of a privilege writing is. And how you need to be privileged to be able to write at all. Or a superhuman multi-tasker.

All deep thinking is a product of mental seclusion and seclusion is usually a product of isolation or solitude and long periods of solitude is a matter of privilege.

So most of us write in spite of work, not because it is work. And yet, writing is gruelling work.

Writing brings very few material rewards. And the few material rewards it might bring to the successful are not immediate. Much like many of the poorest countries of the world, writing has no big middle class. The super-successful stand as examples that it can be done but they are very few and far between. Then the rest are struggling writers.

If you’re making a  living through writing (I mean the creative kind, not the more “useful” varieties of writing where writing is the medium to achieve something else, not the end-goal) it means you are super-successful because no one else is.

And yet, creative writing is very hard work. One of the most difficult. The more abstract it is , the more gruelling and the less “work” it seems within the noise of the real world, the more distant it is from  material rewards and non-material rewards (prestige, respect, sense of fulfilment) and the less it can justify its existence.

The day (the job, the business of living such as cooking cleaning etc., and almost anything else one can think of with an immediate effect) has a head start in terms of priority.Only the biggest multi-taskers can get some writing done in bits and spurts within all this noise. Or the most privileged–those who don’t need to work and are okay to be seen by the world as such (because few will consider writing as work).

Those who can take off from work for long periods of time confident that they can come back to their careers whenever they want can also devote chunks of their life to writing, but how many can?

Even then, those who have and can retreat into a room of their own for long periods of time can actually put that idea into practice and make that time fruitful. Above all, such people need to be big risk takers willing and able to invest so much of gruelling work into something with a very low chance of return or no expectation of return at times when washing the dishes seems more rewarding.

Therefore, my hats off to those who write in spite of the daily.

(My thoughts started taking off after I read a post by Cheri Lucas driven by the coincidence that I woke up at 4 am today and couldn’t go back to sleep–a rarity for me.)

38 thoughts on “Writing in spite of the daily”

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  2. Reblogged this on clairemarieolson and commented:
    I just this loved this way too much to not reblog. It made me think, and it put my feelings about writing into words. I like her style of writing and the way that she expresses herself–things that I would like to try and recreate. Enjoy this!


  3. So true. I’m very lucky to have been able to negotiate my “real” working days down to four per week and it has made such a difference to my life in general and specifically my writing, whilst not impacting too much on the finances. I would recommend it heartily!


  4. Very true, a tale we all know well. I gave myself a whole off to write once, just freelance and performance work, no part time job or definite income. Even when I managed to sell my writing the money often arrived much later and I gave up when finding food money was a luxury. I never stopped writing though. I have had 6 years of private writing and I am now back on the freelance wagon (this time with a secure initial income to cover mortgage, food and bills & 13 years additional experience of life and writing!)

    I think the truth is… we all know this, yet we write inspite of it.


  5. One of my favorites by you! It’s like you encompassed the woe of every single writer. I rarely write because I’m the type that doesnt like to be limited and restricted by time frames. So when i know I have a chuck of time to dedicate to writing, i write. But, its hard with real life responsibilities to make that free time. I often write out of spite. Force myself to stay up and write, or blog, even though I know i will regret the lack of sleep in the morning.


  6. This is a thought-provoking post and I’ve steered my blog audience to come visit. I’ve taken issue (gently, I hope) with your notion of “useful” writing. It’s part of a larger discussion I’m having with a few writing students and professional writers in my world. Thanks very much for posting.


  7. what a great post, i go though burst where ill write non stop for wekks and then nothing months. Ive always put it down to a lack of disapline but is more likely a mix of that and everything that you just said.


  8. I do most of my writing at my day job so when i get home I can dedicate time to my kid and do some housework. Sneaking and trying not to be caught adds extra flavour to it (yeah… I know… I’m a bit fucked up).


  9. The menial tasks of daily life (the dishes, as BW mentions, the cooking and diaper changes) free my mind to think creatively. (I think Agatha Christie said she plotted a lot of her books while doing the dishes.) The extreme need to share the contents of my imagination made writing the ultimate balance to my busy home life. It can be challenging finding the time for that outlet, but such a delight.


  10. I can definitely relate to this. I feel guilty if I let the housework go to do some writing, but if I don’t get chance to let my creative side out I start to feel like I’m not me anymore.


  11. The older I get, the more I have to consciously “switch off.” It’s almost like going into a meditation (when it works well). But with it comes an increased need for absolutely no distractions. Lovely piece. (Lovely peace!)


  12. I agree that you have to be a master of mutli-tasking to get any meaningful writing done. There are so many demands on our time and energy, demands that need to be met since we all have bills to pay. As a mom, I find that I often have to wrestle with guilt on top of everything else. I think maybe a part of us is programmed to feel guilty if you sit down to write and the house isn’t spotless, dinner isn’t quite ready, the kids need help with homework etc. Some of us are lucky enough to have very supportive partners and for me this is what makes all the difference. Someone who believes in you so much that they force you to make time for writing in spite of all the craziness.


  13. I get my best ideas when I’m walking too and from work.

    There’s about 45 minutes where I bounce concepts, characters and plots against myself. Given that I’m rather vocal I end up talking to myself.

    Thank the gods for wireless headsets. Folks think I’m just using one of those.

    The bulk of my work’s done at Tim Horton’s or other coffee shops with wireless access. I try treat my writing as a part time job and aim for 5 or so hours a week. I’d go longer but I work full time at my day job already.

    Fortunately I like my day job.

    5 hour’s not a lot but still I’m MUCH more productive now than I was a few years ago.


  14. Definitely can relate to this! I usually stay up into the wee hours, working on material. Other times, life just gets in the way, then there’s writer’s block, etc., etc. On it goes. Actually gave up writing altogether, for decades. Now the muse is back and I refuse to let it go again. Excellent post; thank you.


  15. “All deep thinking is a product of mental seclusion and seclusion is usually a product of isolation or solitude and long periods of solitude is a matter of privilege.” This is why I’ve always wondered why so many writers like to work at a Starbucks. My imagination simply shuts down when I am trying to write in public. And yes, you are so right when you say writing is work – hard work. I’ve been lucky to make a living at professional screenwriting for a number of years, and when you write for a living it’s 24/7. You may look like you’re enjoying life with family and friends, but trust me, your mind is always working on whatever screenplay you’re getting paid to write at the time. Nice post!


  16. I do my most productive writing in the wee early hours of the morning. I don’t intentionally wake up that early, it just happens sometimes.


  17. Great piece, so full of insights.- couldn’t agree more with everything you say. And yet the other side of the coin for me, is that if I don’t write, I’m not as happy as I am when I’m writing.
    I feel real gratitude that I love it so much that I want to write, even though the rewards are few/small.
    The real reward is the satisfaction of doing it, and releasing all those thoughts that pile up in solitude and silence… no TV, radio or news casts to intrude… writing is a way of life…
    And like virtue… the writing itself has to be its own reward!.


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