I always knew that when I retired, writing would be a big part of my life. I looked forward to the day when I could unapologetically devote long stretches of time to writing books, articles, blogs...whatever genre the muse bestowed when she visited.
But I never thought about the subtle differences that would emerge once I began to take my writing seriously enough to dub it a profession. Calling myself a writer seemed so audacious that the title brought with it a compulsion to produce, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that the muse played a very small walk-on role in the life of a serious writer.
Inspiration is important, certainly, but writing, like any other profession, requires that the writer possesses the dedication to show up and do it, even on the days when the process isn’t easy. Just as good teachers need lesson plans to flesh out their inspirations, good writers need writing plans to develop the ideas the muse provides.
But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a professional writer: it became increasingly difficult to “leave my work at the office.”
The weekend before last, for example, we were at the beach. I sat in a beach chair under an umbrella on a perfect beach day, with a bag full of magazines and a fully loaded Kindle. I had come prepared to read (and nap) without feeling guilty for not being productive. What was the first thing I pulled out of my bag? A notebook.
I have to write. Not because I’m under a deadline or even because a story is nagging at me (well, maybe a little of the second one) but because it’s a day that ends in “y”.
I’m not being a smart aleck. On days when I don’t write, or at least do something writing-related, I feel as though something is missing. I’ve been at this long enough and I have so many projects and ideas floating around in my head that there never seems to be enough time to tackle them all.
When I don’t write, I feel as though something is missing; the day feels sort of off-kilter until I get some writing time in. I wish I felt this way about exercising or cleaning or cooking, but I don’t. Only writing.
And so when I pack for the beach -- or any other vacation -- I pack a notebook, and on this last trip, for close to an hour on beach days, I scribbled away, trying out a “beach sprint” in longhand. These entries will most likely become blogs (some, like this one, already have), and I will feel productive because I have them written ahead of schedule, but that is beside the point. Before I can read or nap or any of the myriad other things to be done at the beach, I must write.
A theatre friend of mine liked to say that we act because we must. Actors can’t not act.
And writers can’t not write. Admittedly, some of our writing gets hidden away in a desk drawer or computer file; sometimes it’s the clutter we need to cut through to get to the idea inside. Those writings are a writer’s rehearsal -- not quite ready for an audience, but necessary to the writing process.
And though it makes little sense to those who don’t share a passion for writing (and is, in fact, a source of irritation when it creeps into family time or vacation time), writing, for writers, is like eating and breathing and sleeping -- so much a part of who we are that we are unable to function when we go for long periods of time without indulging ourselves.