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Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's the time? Who cares: Just Write!

I’d like to share with you an extremely thought provoking quote I found recently:

‘When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to live one’s life’

This is something the author Erica Jong said. I don’t know where and I don’t know when. But it is a great quote and contains a lot of truth. I’ve said it’s thought provoking because, while some of us writers would agree with her sentiments that it’s a wonderful way to live a life, many of us might take exception to the idea that time vanishes when we sit at our desks. And then a third group would say, yes, sometimes time goes by really quickly when I’m writing, but other times it’s like the proverbial pulling of teeth.

I would say without hesitation that I am in that last group. I love writing and sometimes the words flow and the time it takes doesn’t even enter into my consciousness. Then, when I finally do look up (or I should say away) from the screen, I see that time has literally flown by. Other times it almost becomes a torture as I (sometimes literally) watch the clock as I plough through another session of staring at a blank screen with its flashing cursor (or is that the cursed flashing thing?). Then there’s the line-by-line edit that doesn’t seem to be working, a 500 word mini review that has somehow gotten itself written as a 1500 word feature. The list of torturous scenarios goes on.

However, when I read Jong’s quote I had this idea that it is how we view time and our writing that dictates our perception of time’s passing—not to mention the enjoyment we get from our writing as we write. Of course, it’s a cliché to say that time drags by when one is watching the clock or indeed when one is having a less than wonderful time. I wonder, though, does it need to be that way?

I don’t think it does. Watching the clock, agonising over the unpleasantness or difficulty of a task, thinking about what we would rather be doing, and so on, is hardly allowing us to fully focus on what it is we are doing; it also takes us away from the present moment. And, really, shouldn’t be fully present if she or he is to really allow access to the words that they have within and which are only awaiting the chance to come out?

If any occupation lends itself to being fully in the now, it is writing. But you know, even as I write this I am thinking about the lyrics of the song I’m listening to. It’s not an easy thing, this being in the present. I guess all that we can do is try.

We can begin that effort by a continual vigilance. When we find ourselves drifting away, watching the clock, complaining internally about how hard the job at hand is, we can simply bring ourselves back to that task. And I mean the minute details of it. Like, really noticing that comma I just typed after ‘Like’—as I type it! Feel the key, watch the comma appear on the screen; really read the words as they appear on the screen; feel your bottom on the seat; whatever it takes! The key is to be here now.

Nobody will ever convince me that a line-by-line grammar and punctuation edit is supposed to be fun. But, you know, there are times when it is at least not onerous, when it becomes a challenge. In fact in the case of this particular task, the more present you are, the quicker the job will be and the more accurate too!

And what about when we are caught up in the beauty and fun of the process of writing itself? Well time can fly by, or vanish. Again, it’s about just being with the process, being in the here and now of the flow of words. Try it. I’m going to.

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