I don’t find it hard to come to my chair. I walk here breathlessly. I spill coffee. I ignore other things, and people. I find it easy to come here because I have something to do. I have a book to finish that needs a lot of work before it can get itself finished.
Annie Dillard, in her inspiring book The Writing Life, says “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.”
(photo credit Susan Stevens)
She also says the following:
“Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. … Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps your and your desk in midair.”
I remember imagining, when studying for tests at high school and university, that I wasn’t just memorizing information or understanding concepts, but “hanging out” with the material. I never told anyone this, of course, but I understood that if I were to just spend time getting to know the material, falling into it and burying my face and my body in it, connections would begin to form. These connections would allow me to understand that material well enough to manipulate it in any form needed for the test. The same, I believe, applies to writing a book. I lounge here, smiling at it.
I am now beginning to see that my drive and success in school was preparation for my writing career. I learned, over the years, to self-motivate myself, to be alone and connect with words, to work with an efficient perfectionism. I also learned to show up and sit here.
I keep hearing interviews and reading articles with Jonah Lehrer, who just wrote the book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Though I have yet to read it, I have read and heard around it enough to know that in it Lehrer discusses things like Bob Dylan’s writer’s block and creative streaks, Steve Jobs’ ability to make Pixar and Apple creative workspaces, and Q, not the radio show but the quotient of how well you should know the people you work with.
(photo credit jonahlehrer.com)
Jonah Lehrer’s most interesting point, to me, is that creativity is at once produced by showing up and making dumb mistakes (Ann Lamott‘s idea I’ve adopted of “shitty first drafts”), but also by standing up. When you are faced with a problem that is causing you to mentally block or give up, do give up. Stand up and do something else. Creativity comes from the moments after you get deep into the material, from the moments when you step away. This is when the connections fall together into a moment of insight.
Recap: sit down, stay there, then at some point stand up. This, I’m learning, is the key.