What is Real Writing? What ‘Counts’?

September 24, 2012 § 21 Comments

Monday morning!

A day for promises and beginnings believed. On Monday, things will be different again.

I woke up with the dark because I was chilly, but I was pleased. How wonderful! I’m awake before my alarm. I listened to The Writer’s Almanac, as is my morning habit I’ve decided.

I woke again at 8am to discover I’d fallen asleep. The whole day since has been a question mark. It is National Punctuation Day so it is fitting, I can see that, but still.

Did I sleep in? I’m not sure. I slept past seven, which is the hour I had intended to wake. I slept till eight, which will not do at all and I was very unhappy and filled with fog and disappointment. Does it count that at six I was listening to a poem about sparrows and receiving a reminder that it would be Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday had he failed to die?

What matters? What counts?

Never mind old bean. Forget about this small false start. Carry on old chap. Drink your tea. Eat your porridge.

(I make my porridge – or oatmeal as you might call it – overnight in the slow cooker. This small act of forethought and readiness for each morrow makes me inordinately happy and pleased with myself. If nothing else, I seem to say as I switch it on low and anticipate tomorrow’s warm creaminess, I have achieved this one thing that I know is good for me, both in this prudent moment and again in the morning, each spoonful deliberate and delicious.)

I was going to Write today.

First, I checked my inbox and there was a letter from a friend. Why do I continue to call one set of sentences an Email and another – delivered by the same medium – a Letter? Content, I suppose. Meaningful, engaging, carefully composed sentences perhaps. I have not had a penpal in years. I continued to write letters until it became not so much painfully unbearable but embarrassing that I received none in return. I think about all of the things that were and are done or not done only from fear of embarrassment and I feel ashamed.

I decided to reply to my friend’s questions and concerns at a later time. After all, I had planned to get some Writing done today and I was already so far behind after waking up so early and waking up so late.

Then, another question came to me and, in answer, I set aside my Writing and I set aside my plans and only slightly worried that Writing will never be my number one priority.  I pressed Reply and though not in exactly these words, I said something like Dear Friend.

Many hours later, I did worry and, frustrated, I counted all the things today that were not I Prioritizing Writing.

I counted the hours: One and a bit, I fell back to sleep. Half or so for tea and porridge. Three and a half. Typing typing typing. Head bent low. Deliberate. Thoughtful. Engaged. My dear friend. Three and a half hours! On an email?

And I counted the words: One thousand, five hundred and forty. The number of words I removed because they were not precisely what I wished to say to them, were too indulgent, whose tangents were needless though not untrue or even all that bad.

Two thousand and eighty-four is the number of words that finally said something like life is a beautiful and terrifying risk but we must.

I was hungry, then. It was after noon. I heated some dal, bit down on a cardamom pod; it was not unpleasant and yet I spat it out. Why? So many questions. Suddenly, it was one and I should have finished Writing by now and ready to put on my running shoes.

My sister phoned from Ireland then. We hadn’t planned on it but we spoke for an hour and sometimes she even listened as I begged her to hear me say something like Trust.  Believe. Just Breathe. Do not ever worry. I love you. I love you. Oh Just Get Over It.

I’m still in my pajamas.

It’s almost four.

Nothing went the way.

May as well salvage something with a blog post.

(What is real Writing? What are words for unless to cheer a heart on or shake someone you love and fear for? What counts? What counts as me being the person-writer I want to be? Oh, when will I ever do one fucking thing that I say I’m going to?)

 

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§ 21 Responses to What is Real Writing? What ‘Counts’?

  • It happens to everybody, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just know that in all the ways that you have verged away from following a set pattern of behavior every day, those are all the many ways in which you are connected to the universe. And sometimes, the other connections of the universe pull at you willy-nilly. Forgive yourself and go on. You have a lot to offer.

  • You’re already a writer Deborah! I had the same question today, and almost tweeted “I’m going to pitch to a magazine today,” but then didn’t, because “Why?” So I can say “I’ve been published?” “I’m a writer?” I am a writer. Good, bad, mediocre, they are always the judge, but one thing’s for sure, I write. Some read it, some like it, love it, delete it, despise it. It should be irrelevant. But it’s not. Are we all just seeking praise? Or connection? I’d like to think it’s the latter but sometimes I’m not sure. Just keep going my dear!

    • Thanks Michelle! I think so.

      My post was intended to be somewhat rhetorical, or answering its questions within itself (perhaps I didn’t pull that off very well, mea culpa). I felt great today. I wrote a lot. It’s so strange when it’s largely unseen though. It raises questions like “what is productivity?” “what is a valuable use of time?” “what counts?” I feel like I know the answers to those questions and am at peace. It’s interesting.

      Thanks for reading dear x

  • rite2run says:

    Hey, the way I read it ate well, wrote to friends and talked to your sister on the Emerald Isle, not a bad day at all. Get a good sleep and a great Tuesday!

  • Alison says:

    If we do not take days as they come and live them, what is there to write about?

  • Anne J Steves says:

    I think what you have said right here…that is writing. It is corresponding with the world about our current condition in it. What else should writing be?

    • Thanks Anne. I think so.

      I do find it interesting though that some forms of writing ‘feel’ more legitimate than others. I never feel guilty for spending the day writing hundreds of words on the book I’m working on. But time spent on an email to a friend or a blog post feels like I’ve slacked off the real work somehow. There are strange hierarchies that are silly and arbitrary and yet I fall for them in spite of myself, and need to remind myself constantly that precisely what you say is true.

  • Jesse says:

    I have many days like this, not exactly, but sort of, and I wonder why I cannot get myself into a more disciplined state of regularity. Sometimes I think that it is because of modern modes of communication. Then again, it is possible that a woman might have sat down to write in the olden days, before phones, FB, email, and she might have been interrupted by the neighbors visiting with fresh jam or eggs. Then maybe she would have set aside her writing to write her sister a letter instead and that would not have counted as writing to her, but if we read that letter now, it would. If that makes sense. Kind of rambling. Sorry. Just to say, great writing.

    • Thanks Jesse. Yes, I think that’s what I meant too, it makes complete sense. What is typically considered ‘real’ writing depends so much on the context and medium – or in certain instances, the time and circumstances – in which it’s read. It’s fascinating that the very same words printed in different places can have more or less value or appreciation.

      We all fall prey to this. So often, even I, who keep a blog, have to remind myself to give someone’s self-published story the time and chance. And, conversely, so often I read something in a magazine or book that is just so awful and I cannot fathom either how it got there or why everyone is raving about it.

      It would be so lovely to be interrupted with fresh jam or eggs. But I think you’re right. We cannot blame our human tendency to distraction, procrastination and struggle with discipline solely on technology. I think they’re universal and timeless themes that predate contemporary communication.

      On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we should give in to them. I’ve been using internet-blocking software Freedom with varying degrees of success. The software is great but, as always, it’s me who has to click that button and disconnect.

      Here I go!

  • ascof2012 says:

    What counts, IMO is what happens between you, your pen and the paper. Perhaps nothing else counts – but then, does that mean that posting a blog does not count?

    • I think it counts. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t continue to keep one, and I think writing regularly on my blog has been good for me and my writing. I certainly see a difference in my posts from the beginning up till now – a confidence and emergence of a voice perhaps…? But, as a writer, I can’t use it as a fallback every day – or I would never get anything else done! So, it does count but I – personally – aspire to more and want to prioritize other work. But I have become quite fond of my little blog and, as always, the nicest thing about it is the people I meet through it. So, thank you for reading!

  • amaya ellman says:

    Hi Deborah,

    As others have said before me, your blog illustrates the purpose in itself!

    All I would add is that when I write my fiction books I’m also thinking about leaving something lasting on the page, something that will ‘outlive’ the writer, the medium and even social networking!

    Thanks for your insightful post – I think it got a lot of people thinking.

  • Jim Brennan says:

    I don’t know if I ever mentioned that I’m now hooked on Writer’s Almanac

    • It’s nice isn’t it? It’s funny, I was just reading your post about preparing for that time when you run your last marathon. It has often crossed my mind that one day, inevitably, something sad will happen and there will be no more Garrison Keiler and I just cannot imagine Writer’s Almanac without his distinctive voice. It’s such a small but lovely part of my day.

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