Write On Wednesday: Embrace the In Between

Because the way I know myself is through the written word.  The ways in which I am able to access any understanding of what makes me tick, how I see the world around me, what I feel, what I know, is through the daily practice of grappling with the page.  The grappling itself is the point.  Ideally something comes of that grappling, eventually.  Every story, novel, essay, memoir begins with that dive, that free fall, that willingness to not know.  We begin with the barest of ideas, a flickering image, a phrase, just outside our grasp, and we begin to try to capture it by sitting with the page and seeing what emerges. Dani Shapiro, On the In Between

wow_button1-9-1I haven’t been able to forget Shapiro’s words since I read them yesterday morning, and in fact have returned to her blog several times today to savor them once again. She’s writing about the time in between completing a book and starting the next project, the time when the writer’s mind is fallow. She worries during this time period, worries that her imagination has left her, that no good ideas will come. She writes “this between-books limbo is, for me, like a long, slow leaching of color from the world.  A steady decline of mood and connection to the universe until one day I wake up and hardly know who I am.”

It’s true for most writers (and I count myself among this number) that we do our best thinking on the page. I’ve recently returned to the practice of morning pages, three pages of stream-of-consciousness style journaling, a habit I had been seriously committed to for several years but one that fell by the wayside during a particularly busy time in my life and never got picked up again.
Since I resumed this practice, I realized  that taking time to write those three pages is as valuable for me as eating three meals a day, or getting seven hours of sleep, or taking my morning walk. I’ve written through some things that were bothering me and discovered other things I didn’t even realize were going on in my head.

And it’s true that the act of sitting down and starting to write – something, anything – often helps me over the hump when I’ve procrastinated on an outside writing assignment, blog post, or review.

But where Shapiro finds the “in between” to be a soul deadening place, I wonder if it sometimes is more fertile than she – or the rest of us occasionally fallow writers – realize. I wonder if, during those times when when we’re not actively writing but going about the business of life full throttle, when we’re reading and conversing and driving, when we’re sitting in meditation or performing sun salutations, when we’re dicing onions or measuring coffee out in spoons, I wonder if we are really gestating the ideas and emotions that will work their way onto the page.

Shapiro says No. For her the real gestation happens on the page when her fingers begin to dance along the keys, the pen scrawl across the paper.

Lately I’ve been thinking about mindfulness, about paying closer attention to the world around me, getting my head out of the internet and television and even books and taking more time to be quietly thoughtful. I think some of that has to happen before we can even begin to put words to the page. And because for most of us daily life  (or the things that Virginia Woolf called “non being- the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner”)  tugs at us so insistently, it’s easy to think that productive mindfulness could not occur in the midst of this banal state.

But with a subtle shift of perspective, I think writers have the power to elevate themselves beyond the state of mundanity, have the creativity and depth of emotion to see past the “cotton wool” of day-to-day living and find instead the moments of gold, the moments that could bring those first tiny seeds set to grow into something larger, something that will indeed sprout to life on the page. With age, I have come to appreciate the beauty and sacredness in my daily routine, in preparing and partaking of meals, in reading books and conversing with friends, in porch sitting and dog walking.

I’ve learned to embrace the in between, confident that something will grow from it, the words will return in their own time, when they are ready.

How about you? Do you embrace the time in-between writing (or other creative projects)? Or do you chafe against it?

5 thoughts on “Write On Wednesday: Embrace the In Between

  1. I’m inclined to think that looking at the blank page of a screen or paper is like an artist looking at a blank canvas. So many possibilities and I suppose you can just pick up and start, but I’m not sure that’s always what sticks (or at least for me). I seem to work out an awful lot in-between. I work out dialogue, I work out color or texture, I work out movement and positioning, I work out the idea and in art, the materials. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t change when I sit down at the computer or the art table. It almost always does, and for the better. But I have started, and really, isn’t that the hardest part? I think the challenge is finding the time to really clear. I do better in the summer when I’m out walking. In the winter there are too many distractions, so much of my “go to sleep” time is spent plotting or thinking. But we’re all different, which makes it all so wonderful.

  2. I think it’s important to “just do it,” and a I’m always amazed at what happens when I finally put my butt in the chair and start writing. But I think there is more going on “in between” than we give ourselves credit for. If we’re mindful, that is, which is difficult!

  3. I read that post, too, and have been thinking about it as well. I’m inclined to agree with her. Although I didn’t realize I did until I read her words and saw myself in them. I’m in the soul deadening in between and am finding my way back to the page, back to my life. It’s only then that I’m able to fully experience the life I live off of the page. I see things differently and experience them differently when I’m dwelling in that creative space.

  4. If I were writing books, I might find her words more descriptive of my process, but I see a couple of differences between us.

    One is that there really isn’t any “in-between time” for me. After about six months of blogging, an assortment of experiences led me to my “Write and let go” rule. As soon as I finish one entry and hit “publish”, I’m on to the next thing immediately. It takes a day or so to decide which topic comes next, and get rolling on it, but I try always to focus on “what’s next”. Staring at a stats page to see how many read or constantly checking for a comment won’t change a thing, so I figure I might as well get on with it!

    The other difference is that I don’t really do my thinking on the page. Once I begin writing, of course there is decision making – changes in wording, changes of direction – but most of my thinking goes on outside the writing process. Part of that’s thanks to the nature of my work, of course, with hours of solitude every day. And it’s partly a result of those choices I’ve made to get rid of television, social media and so on.

  5. Pingback: Climbing and (Dreams of) Quitting: 2013 365 Challenge #66 | writermummy

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