Laboring to write

I know firsthand that writing involves labor—obviously not the physically exhausting kind that accompanies the manual variety—but the difficult mental and often similarly taxing kind that must shadow the stringing of words together in attractive, cogent patterns. I think this knowledge of how difficult this can be has kept me away from my craft longer than is usual for me.

Aware that I had two days to set aside quantities of time to write, with Monday’s holiday, and a personal day scheduled for Tuesday, produced anxiety, realizing that it had been months since I had carved out quality writing time. Yes, I spent a few hours here and there during weekends away from work, but the past two days were the first real disciplined time I’ve devoted to the kind of craft work that writers need to have to maintain, or in my case, regain my edge.

I’ve fallen out of the rhythm of writing that had been carefully cultivated. There are a variety of reasons for this. One has been my new fitness regimen, which has me at the gym early a couple of mornings each week, and less energetic in the evening, which had been a prime writing time for me. Even more problematic has been the invasive nature of social media, and the huge time waster that most of these platforms are.

Yesterday morning, I was at my computer, with a goal to write uninterrupted for four to five hours. What I found really difficult was maintaining my concentration, and refraining from checking email, checking my blinking BlackBerry, or checking information on the web.

After grinding out about 4 ½ hours, and feeling a sense of accomplishment, I attempted to write a letter by hand to a person I had been corresponding with since the fall. Amazingly, I was physically incapable of composing the letter by putting pen to paper, even though I’d done it several times before. It was as if my thoughts could not find the pathway from my brain, down my arm, and out through my pen, onto the paper. It reminded me of McLuhan’s adage that “the medium is the message.” How we communicate—our means, and tools for communication—affect how, and even, whether we are able to communicate in ways that we might have been able to in the past. This was a mind-blower for me.

This morning, I was back at the task of working on an essay that I had started yesterday. The going was much more difficult today. I wrote, went back and rewrote, and felt enough frustration that I had to get up after two hours and take a break. I was able to return, and wrapped up with a productive period of 90 minutes.

What the past couple of days have done is to remind me again that in order to maintain an edge to my writing, I’ve got to get back into habits that have allowed me to be successful in the past. This will require discipline, work, and an uncoupling from things that keep me from those essential habits.

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