Best Laid Plans


It's my designated Day of Writing. Check.

The coffee is black and hot. Check.

My desk is (somewhat) clear and my computer is on. Check and check.

Everything seems like a go, so why can't I just sit down and continue writing my second novel?

The reasons -- excuses -- are endless. The kids are home sick: that's a big one. My mind is focussed on other pressing issues: that's a given. I'm struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder: undiagnosed, but its affects are obvious to me.

Basically, my excuse is, well, Life. And that's the problem. Unexpected stresses or preoccupations will always happen. Ideally, I would be most productive writing in a bubble with no distractions, either external or internal. But that's not realistic.

So what's a writer to do?

Here's what I do: If I can't write this, then write something else.

Today I work on my blog. Last week, I started a creative non-fiction piece that I had planned on submitting to a contest, but didn't end up completing in time due to -- yup, you guessed it -- Life. Yesterday, I wrote a Tweet that summed up my present creative state of mind pretty clearly:

Sometimes all the creative energy you can muster is only enough for one

lonely tweet #amwriting #stillcounts #isitSpringYet #writinglife

(Mostly I dislike Twitter, but I'm realizing it has its purposes.)

So I can't write in a bubble because not only is it unfeasible, but if I live in a bubble and separate myself from the experiences of life, than what am I going to write about? Writers can't remove themselves from living in order to create any more that a religious person can isolate themselves from society to develop their spirituality. I can't live as a hermit guru hunkered down in some cave on a mountaintop. I'm a better writer now than I was twenty years ago, not only because I've been improving my craft, but because I've been doing a bunch of living too.

It's that whole "virtue untested" argument that John Milton expressed beautifully in Aeropagitica (my high school english teacher would be pleased that I remember discussing this essay in class and that it's stuck with me almost 30 years!):

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercises and unbreathed,

that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race

where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

Basically, if the kids never got sick, if I never had a bad day, if I didn't travel to new places, or experience the seasons, or go to work, or argue with a loved one, if I didn't experience all the messy stuff that Life splatters upon me and dive in up to my elbows to gather it up around me to play in the muck and the mire. . .then I'd be a terrible writer.

Because only then would I have nothing to write about.