Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Quiet Center That I Write From

I keep old Victoria magazines. I used to subscribe, and then I began swiping old copies from my mother's house when she wasn't looking :) Old Victorias are just about priceless, as some of us know.

In the September 1995 issue I noticed an article I'd never read (pp. 43-47). Nancy Lindemeyer invited four authors to tea and asked each one her secret -- what is that "quiet center of your life" from which you find the ability to write?And of course, the answers were all over the map!

In summary, the writers' responses show that there is not one single key to writing. The method that works for one writer doesn't work for another. That the writers quickly addressed this topic -- what helps them write -- when asked about the "quiet center of their lives," is fascinating! Do we all assume that there must be a quiet center, an eye in the center of the soul's storm, that writers must tap into, in order to write?

Here are some of their answers. At least two mentioned the bathtub as a place of retreat. Does one write from the bathtub? Do ideas come while bathing? Or is it just the calm of the water and the bubbles that makes the mind receptive to ideas? One writer mentions her garden as a serene place. Unlike her children, the flowers don't argue. She says that the act of writing itself is the retreat in which she hides to find the soothing, all-involving moments that help her write. Okay -- so writing helps her write. Hmm.

One writer posits that although she doesn't know what helps one write, she suspects that having children at home inhibits it. When she did have a child -- one child! -- she opted to get an office for five hours each day as her place to write. Another contributor however, says she knows a successful writer who pens his work surrounded by his noisy six children. He must not realize he needs a quiet center, or else he has one with armor plating!

Some admit feeling guilty that they cannot structure their writing time as other writers do: wake at 4:30, write for two hours, go to work, finish the day, do it again the next day. It works perfectly for some, and is impossible for others. One lady writer admits, "I write from a military zone." A war zone. Writing a novel feels like wrestling an alligator for her. It's exhausting and, try as she might, she's found no other way to make it work.

I love that one writer says her ideal writing situation would be on a train -- "going somewhere for four hours, writing all the way there, then getting off, having lunch, and writing all the way back." She adds, "The sense of passage, of motion, of being unreachable and untouchable, is to me the ideal situation for writing." Something about that scenario resonates with me.

Flannery O'Connor is quoted, "I write about two hours every day because that is all the energy I have, but I don't let anything interfere with those two hours. Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away. But I don't think any of that was time wasted. Something goes on that makes it easier when it does come well. And the fact is that if you don't sit there every day, then on the day that it would come well you won't be sitting there."

That's the brutal truth of it. The work must be done, and the writers who succeed are the ones who find some method, some way, of getting the words out. "Writers spend a lot of time backing away from writing," one lady notes. But when it "goes well," it is sheer joy and pleasure. "I begin to feel as if I am taking dictation," one contributor says. The drudge work previously has an effect. Inexplicably it prepares the writer for the golden moments that are anything but drudgery. In the end, writing is compulsion. As one writer says, "Finally something comes up that is sufficiently powerful that you want to transform it. Then you realize, 'I am going to have to write this story in order to read it.'" I've felt that feeling too.

Nancy Lindemeyer's question is answered thus: "There is no trick to finding that quiet in yourself. But slowly, if you pay attention, you develop things that work for you." Some writers have quiet centers. Some have war zones. Some spend years pushing their writing away. Some must leave and go on a journey to find what's in their brains. Writing is so frustrating because it's so individual. How many writers never produce a thing because they never find the method that works for them?

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