The Labor of Writing Takes Various Forms

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Dear Writer Friends,

On the morning of August 5th, I got my three kids in the car and drove them to school. Summer had been fun and I loved our long, lazy days. But let me tell you, I was ready to get back to work. With the same measure of excitement as my six-year-old starting his first year at a new school, I was going to make the time I had to write massively productive; I wasn’t going to waste a single second. Not even a millisecond.

I had two goals for the month of August: to have revised at least half of my first manuscript and to have the first third of my second WIP underway. It felt like a reasonable goal that I hoped might even be surpassable.

When I sat down in my office (ahem, my dining room) at my desk (cough, my dining room table), I realized I had hours to work! Hours! But somehow I was paralyzed. That first day I ended up with 56 new words. It wasn’t as much as I hoped to write, but it was 56 words closer to the first draft of my second WIP. Every. Word. Counts. Right?

The rest of the week followed the same pattern: I wrote little; I erased a lot. Some days are like that in this profession. In hindsight, I recognize that my enthusiasm had not given my brain time to transition and find its way back to its pre-summer routine. Instead I spent four weeks frustrated with myself that I’d spent more time thinking about revision and drafting than I had actually spent doing those things.

Again in hindsight, I realize all the “soft” writing was exactly what I needed. As writers I think we are trained to see true writing as the words we get down on the page. Mostly because when we tell someone we are writers, they ask what we are writing. This often, whether it’s intended to or not, translates in our minds, or at least in mine, to word count. To the evidence of a story being made. Thus we forget that the process of writing includes a magnitude of experiences and a variety of forms.

As I sat and thought through what I really wanted to say in my turn to write on this blog, I got stuck on the idea of active verses inactive writing. Active writing being the “actual” act of writing words to form a story and inactive being the thinking/planning part. But I realized there is nothing lazy and idle about the thought and planning process. It seemed an inappropriate word to use for something that at times is the biggest workout, the most taxing, the most draining variation of writing.

Once I let go of my personal frustrations, and lack of “evidence”, I was able to see that being a writer also means “living” or journeying through the development of our stories, sitting with the plot and deciding the best course forward, asking our characters questions about their lives. To an outsider I’m sure we look like madmen.

I read a quote from John Muir during one of these silent (no keys tapping), contemplative moments. I was thinking about and collecting thoughts on being in the woods for my second WIP which is set in a place very similar to my hometown. Muir said,”…into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” For me this means a number of things, but it also reflects the way I feel as a writer and being in the messy muck that writing can sometimes be. Writing is where I both lose and find myself and I suspect you do too or else you wouldn’t trouble yourself with the process.

Coincidentally it was in the woods one very humid morning a few weeks ago, while walking and talking with a friend, that lead me to realize a massive oversight in my first WIP, but that change will now hopefully make the resolution more satisfying. Likewise, being asked by another friend what the catharsis of my story was, made me realize I didn’t have an adequate answer, which needed to be fixed stat, but it also awakened a small kink in the plot that once fixed will make the climax in that same manuscript have more meaning. Both experiences helped me remember the heart of my story. Neither happened in front of my computer.

Remember, my dear friends, words are just the final product. Proof of a journey.

– Naomi



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