The writer’s life: How I spend my time

Nov 15, 2020 | 3 comments

Unlike news reporting, where timeliness and deadlines prevail, composing a weekly column requires diligent patience.

Folks often offer vignettes, eager for me to quickly pluck and dissect the highlights into a story, but a written commentary is not something that can be rushed, manufactured or harvested early.

Oftentimes I will be notified of an event or suggested a story that seems to be of likely interest to the community but I must patiently wait for the details — until the full spectrum of color and knobby texture of the tale is made manifest, often with complex hues and contrasts unrevealed in the original telling.

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I am not capable of going rigidly into a story. Every column I have ever written is different from where it started. Each is highjacked by an unknown hand, suggesting, shaping, often taking me so far afield of my original intention that it requires countless hours of fitful slogging and quiet contemplation to understand the unrealized truths being presented to me. It is hard work that keeps me up late, drinking coffee, sussing details, and dutifully composing the result. The demands are great but I know of no greater reward than having the opportunity to press the superfluous details of my musing through the mesh of clarity and offering the essence to you in the morning.

And then there this is this: I all too often become desperately concerned about my weekly post — worried that what I have to say will interest no one; that I am casting feathers into the wind.

This is by far the most agonizing aspect of composing a weekly missive, and it is at this time that I meditate on one simple truth:

There is always a way out of the long, deep trough of silence.

Some essentials require unwavering attention and do not need the slightest nudge of inspiration: rivers chattering in their stony beds, a fraternity of snow-white clouds surfing the deep blue sky … and sentries of trees bowing their heads before a gallant breeze.
I’ve often yearned to stand among those trees, ageless and graceful, swaying like a metronome bending yes, no, perhaps, while lifting my dusty face and waiting for rain.
This is the rhythm of life that most appeals to me.

Somerset Maugham famously uttered, “There are three rules for writing successfully. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

I find his observation both humorous and spot-on.

On the other hand, Susan Sontag does, in fact, seem to know what those rules are. “One needs to possess three obsessions: Love of words, agonizing over sentences, and paying attention to the world.”

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