15 October 2008

What is "not writing," and do you believe in it?

I've heard a lot of people mention "not writing," as if it's a part of the process. As if it's intentional. I'd like to know more about that.

The other day Olena Kalytiak Davis read at CSU, and she mentioned something about "not writing" sometimes being as important as "writing."

There's obviously a big difference between "not writing" and "not eating" or "not grading these papers that I need to hand back tomorrow." But I'm interested in the notion of "not writing" (and lordy, I am getting really sick of putting that in quotes) as an intentional practice, rather than a justification for writer's block, a reason to be apathetic, and so on.

Have you ever intentionally been "not writing"? Why? Did it help?

Lately I have been "not writing anything good due to other urgent matters," but I have a feeling that's not the same thing whatsoever.

15 comments:

stacebro said...

Maxine Hong Kingston visited Oregon when I was in grad school and talked about the ebb and flow of writing as breathing out (producing) and breathing in (not). I've always liked that analogy--maybe because it made me feel like my time off from writing was essential in some balanced way.

Penultimatina said...

I like that analogy, too! It makes it seem quite natural, and provides an interesting contrast to the "You Must Write Every Day" theory.

C. Dale said...

I think about it the way MHK does. In order to concentrate the words, in order to bring a sense of urgency to the page, to the poem, I need to have periods of not writing. It is in those periods that I find things, put them together, start working out how one could go from point A to Z. I think of not writing as essential to writing. Not writing is not simply an excuse for slacking off or for not having time. Not writing sounds weird because this country is all about production. The capitalism that arose from the industrial revolution permeates practically everything. The idea of not writing as essential to writing is more akin to an older Asian or Zen way of thinking.

JB said...

I think of "not writing," the moments between periods of productivity (that in itself needs to be put in quotation marks) as my "gestational period," the time when I'm growing poems. When I come back to the page, I have a different take on the poem, or a group of poems, so this quiet span of time is quite important to my writing, no matter what causes it.

Leslie said...

I think of it in terms of a rain barrel (a well is the cliched version, I think). You spend it down in writing, you let the world fill it back up in silence and the busy griefs.

I do think that the ebb is as important as the flow.

And when I haven't been writing for a while, I get all itchy and want to get something out, something down. And then I feel better, a little at peace, a little like equilibrium has happened. And then, I always pray, it happens again.

Penultimatina said...

I've always wanted a rain barrel.



Thank you for your thoughts, everyone!

Laura Without Labels said...

I'm thinking that during periods of time where I am "not writing" it is never intentional in the sense that I'm holding myself back. But rather I'm not forcing myself to write something if I'm not compelled. This way I don't get into a place where I feel guilty about not writing and then never want to actually write. But I do think for me, going out into the world and experiencing new things is just as much a part of the writing process as actually writing is. Fuel for the fire :)

Nin Andrews said...

Oh, I don't know. I like to hear all this, but when I'm not writing, I'm a total bitch. When I am, I am just a partial bitch. And when I'm writing a ton, I can almost imagine I'm a decent person.

So sure, I believe in "not writing." But I'd rather not practice it.

John Gallaher said...

I'm of the "whatever gets you through the night" school, when it comes to others, but if I don't write somethgin every day or two, I feel skeletons tapping me on the shoulder. I'd much rather write too much, and then have piles of things around to work with, than think of one thing and then silence and then one more thing.

Lucie Brock-Broido is one who also talks about "not writing" as an important part of her writing life.

Penultimatina said...

Maybe I'll teach an MFA Craft & Theory on Not Writing. The prep and grading will be a breeze!

Diane Lockward said...

I accept it as a seemingly necessary part of who I am as a writer, ie, just not an everyday kind of girl, but I don't like it. I'd rather be writing everyday. Tried forcing it and it didn't work. Now I try to value the days of not writing as days of being on the lookout, days of replenishing, days of getting ready. Some days it just feels more like laziness.

kristy bowen said...

I've had periods of time where I intentionally release myself from the obligation to feel I have to produce--especially true when I'm burned out, busy with other things, or just having other unrelated issues. Of course, I cheat sometimes and write anyway, but it saves me getting all angsty if I'm not writing...

~ said...

I "don't write" in the summer and that's in quotes because I do actually write in the summer, but it's much more random and less expected than my fall through spring routine.

I call that non-writing period "filling up." For me, it can be good. If I'm feeling stuck or having trouble writing, I will make myself go X number of days without writing because then I begin to ache for it and when I sit down, it's all there.

Like Nin though, I'm not the best person to be around when I'm not writing, though I guess this is more when I'm *stuck* rather than an intentional period (like summer) where I don't write because I'm trying to soak up my Vit D for the year.

I don't think you have to write every day, but for me, I need to do something otherwise when I arrive to write a poem, I have no idea where to begin and the poem begins to feel too important thus ultimately killing it.

Good post, M! It was great to read everyone's responses!

Calder said...

Enjoyed reading you today... first off, I am totally against the term "writer's block", do not believe in it and think this is as others have stated, a natural ebb and flow. For me at least, the off time while not writing is the opportunity to take a small step forward in po-evolution, sort of like digesting that that has come before and gaining the vital elements from it.

Smiles!
R Jay

Vince Gotera said...

Actually, Mary, I spent a lot of time this semester both not writing and not grading, which meant that I was really up against the 8-ball at the end of the semester. A couple of all-nighters. Now I hope I can spend less time not writing!

Oh, if you get a rain barrel make sure to get some white chickens too. Ha ha.