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On Writing and Not Writing

There actually is a difference. As an author and columnist who’s been steadily writing, nearly daily, for twenty years, in the last few months I’ve become “a writer who emails, and writes on the side,” as my colleague Meg Waite Clayton says. Promotion for Mama’s Child has spawned endless emails: details of book readings, blog interviews, panels, editor and agent correspondence, readers' mail. For two months I’ve been starting and stopping and restarting an essay, plus revisions on my next novel—a work style normally so unlike me. Usually I’m a straight-ahead, some might say obsessive, writer.

Now, instead, I feel caught in a what-am-I-doing? moment, where I’m furtively relishing the opportunity to sleep in if I want to, and for that matter sleep through the night without waking at three to jot a sentence or excise one written the day before. Last week I hosted my beloved sister for a six-day visit, an event that would normally fill me with horror, since I can never compose with a visitor’s energy filling the house. Yesterday I ordered two sets of theater tickets. Long morning walks with friends, without worry about what time I get to my desk, are growing frightfully habitual.

I say “frightfully” because at heart, though I enjoy this respite from the weight of a project—when every moment is so precious I defer all appointments--I understand this is only a break, one meant to refresh, not become a way of life. For writers write. That’s it, the beginning and the end. Despite the cost to social life and other “non-essential” needs, my soul sings when I’m intensely engaged in a creative project. There’s nothing quite like it; as I always say, “It’s the second best feeling in the world.”

So to you writers out there who yearn to put fingers to keyboard, but can’t quite get over the non-writer hump, simply decide: Today is the day. And write one sentence. Maybe two. Once you begin, it’s like exercise: the energy of the activity will keep you going. Each day gets easier, until you can’t wait to rush into your writing, and your only issue will be: how can I possibly find time to conduct the rest of my life?
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