A friend recently confided in me.
"I don't write every day," she whispered. "I know you're suppose to."
"I don't either," I replied. Relief washed her face.
For years, I badgered myself into writing regimes. I wrote 500 words a day. I wrote Morning Pages, timed writings, and poems on demand. Like a diet with a strict calorie count, every time I fell short — and I always, eventually, fell short — I felt worse than when I began. Cue the berating. Let the self-degradation begin.
But I've eased up. I have, in part, Billy Collins to thank.
“I have no work habits whatsoever," says the prolific poet. "I don’t write every day, so often it would be zero hours per day. I kind of hold onto a romantic view. People say in order to be a writer you have to write all the time. The poem will come along when it arrives. I try to be on the lookout for creative opportunities, something that might trigger a poem, but I don’t sit down in the morning and try to commit an act of literature before lunch.”
Creative opportunities. Acts of literature.
I like that.
Now, instead of wrangling myself into writing every day, I simply look for creative opportunities to commit acts of literature. And my definition is rather broad. Recent acts include reading (newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, cereal boxes), attending a reading, gathering with literary friends, browsing bookstores, and roosting at libraries.
As a writer-for-hire, I do write everyday. I have clients and deadlines and a love of structure. As a poet, I am consistently battling my "write now" brain with my "write when it feels good" tendency.
Writer Jessica Goodfellow recently provided a much-needed nudge: "Even when you're not writing, you're writing."
"Sometimes I just have to remember that everything I do is writing," she says. "It may not look like it to anyone else (it doesn't even seem like it to me!), but what I am doing when I'm doing nothing is writing. And when I'm doing something other than writing, somehow that is writing too."
Now that's a writing regime I can put to work.
How about you? Are you writing when you are not writing? Are you commiting acts of literature?