Saturday, December 7, 2013

On Not Being in Charge

Asking how much longer on this writing project, when will it be done, how many more lines, how many more stanzas, how many more paragraphs or pages, how many more sources, is a fundamentally inappropriate or ungracious question. It's one I found myself asking the other day about a poem like a child pestering, "Are we there yet?" And as of this morning, I'm still being reprimanded for asking it.

In "The Essential Delay" and "Write Before Writing" Don Murray identified five reasons why someone might delay writing (waiting for information, insight, order, voice, and need). Murray's diagnosis about delay is extremely useful for helping people not conflate these rich forms of waiting with writing block.

What strikes me about Murray's waiting, however, is that once a writer becomes aware of the helpful nature of waiting--and stops resisting or mislabeling it--the problem evaporates. In other words, once a writer becomes mindful of the nature of that waiting, the writer appreciates it as an organic stage in composing. Murray's delay is oriented toward the writer: you notice what's actually going on and you're automatically reward with some relief. But I'm talking about yet another type of required patience: you notice what's happening with your writing and you still have to wait, perhaps wordlessly.

It's one more lesson I have to learn about writing. One more thing writing has to teach me about mindfulness. Not only do I not control outcome, I do not control duration around that piece of writing. "You've got to be kidding. You mean there's more?" reveals how I am secretly slanted toward final product, the gloss of completion, the external reward side of writing.

My Other Half, the part of my internal dialog that causes my writing to happen, well, it may go off a long way and for a long time into the unconscious to fetch an answer, the next passage, an image, and resurface only after what seems like an interminably long time.

It's particularly funny when you are the person who decided to write the piece: it isn't a work- or school-provided task. No one asked you or perhaps even expects you to finish this piece. In fact, you were the one who came up with the concept, set up the perimeters, who decided the hour and day to embark and return to the project. You seem to be in charge--but that's far from the case.

Speaking of schooling, of this dimension of composition, I am once again struck by the fact that this patience, this not-being-in-charge is not something regularly (ever?) taught in schools. It's not really school-compatible. How could it be? Perhaps it is a lesson only professional writers or self-willed writers know. I know for sure it is a lesson I need to be periodically retaught. No worries: writing will make sure I'm taught.

Of course, it is only natural to desire for a break, for release from the uncomfortably intense intimacy of writing a piece. What it asks of me is that I stay patient, that I wait for it to be done. That I not try to control outcome or duration, that I embrace groundlessness.

Everything changes, and one factor in writing ability that will change and that will remain beyond our control is the duration of a writing project. How Long can not be predetermined.

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