Writing, writing, writing, or not, then writing again

I have to take breaks from writing. I don’t like it, but it’s the way the year cycles around: at some points in the year, I just have more time to write than other times. The end of every semester is a harrowing experience (not just for me, for students, too), and I never get done at the end what I set out to do in the beginning. My best laid plans always go awry. After years of this rhythm, you’d think I’d have it mastered. Not. Ever the optimist at the beginning of the term; ever the realist at the end. Never a pessimist.

I begin to miss writing after a few days of doing little but crisis managing schedules, curriculum, grading, wrapping up the term doing paperwork that is neverending really (and by paperwork, I mean emails and actual “paper” work–forms and such that have to be filled out in order to finish or start an event or action–sometimes online but sometimes on paper). That’s not writing as I think of it; though, it is technically writing: I have to, most certainly and always, be aware of audience, purpose, genre, and content.

What I mean by missing writing is I miss writing here or other blogs. I miss thinking in this medium. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with words appearing on the screen that describe my thinking, action I wish to take, ideas that percolate and then are ready to be alive/shared, even the revelation of my neuroses or Neurosis. Writing has become tangible to me through online writing in ways that aren’t tangible for the writing I do in physical notebooks or journals. I do a lot of that writing and have several notebooks I write in consistently. Some I fill in just a few months; some are filled over the course of a year or so; I usually never keep the topics consistent, though–always grabbing one for whatever, whenever. It’s always a surprise then when I go back to see what I wrote or was thinking at any particular time.

A few of my writing notebooks for notes, art, graphs, charts, and writing.

But I love writing in the notebooks as I can doodle, too, and draw ideas in ways that I can’t using just words. I rethink room arrangements, chart curriculum, envision graphics to support ideas. Keep up a dialog with a book or speaker. But here, online, there’s the accountability of the public that does not come with my clandestine journal work.

And I miss this. It’s part of who I’m becoming. Always becoming.

I don’t carry on an active blogging life in the sense that I write in blogs all the time or connect to other bloggers, and/or engage in blogs that are about my professional or personal interests. It’s not that kind of blog (as I’ve mentioned before); this is a blog where I work out mentally. This is more for me than anyone. My intellectual gym, sort of. I definitely don’t go to this writing gym as much as I should, but it’s still here for me to work out in when I have time. And I always feel better after a writing work out. Though, sometimes I have been sore for a few days post-writing (neck, back, fingers, right arm, mouse hand).

What I can’t help seeing in that metaphor–blogging is a mental gym–is the correlation between how much I write and how relaxed I am or how productive I feel in all aspects of my life when I’m writing regularly. It’s very like exercise–in fact, there must be some kind of endorphin rush that accompanies writing because it makes me feel good and strong when I do it, and I feel puny and weak when I don’t.

A quick Google search yielded a scholarly article on endorphins and exercise that suggests it is a fine thing (something my grandmother knew in the 1920s from working on a farm, BTW). A lousy picture of of the citation and abstract is below–I suggest you click on the link rather than strain your eyes.

Check out this article–it’s old but it might be right.

I could have done a more thorough search through a library database, but you get the idea. Is not writing a form of exercise? I have to stretch (intellectually) before I do it; I have to be active and engaged while doing it; I have to be determined to keep doing it; I have to cool down after. I’m a stronger writer after it’s all over. Are not endorphins part of this process, then?

For ages, we have called getting ready to write doing writing exercises. I’m sure there are studies on the brain and writing which actually do justice to this idea, but I’m not going there today. I just want to speculate and allow my links and thinking and alignments to freely associate as they will–just to stretch my mind a bit as I get ready for the next writing I have to do. There’s a lot of writing on my agenda this summer. I am looking forward to all of it: institutes, workshops, articles, chapters, working on old stuff, new stuff, bizarre stuff, fun stuff. I’m also looking forward to writing here.

I want to post something every week, though, historical precedence suggests putting expectations on my work here isn’t always realistic. I’m working on my teaching/admin/human memoir as much as I can–and want to make this blog a garden for that work, but I have other writing that must be completed before I teach again in the fall. I’m okay with that.

I have a big calendar and a plan.

It won’t be easy. It never is. But being prepared for the activity of writing is the key, isn’t it? Can’t cook unless you handle your mise en place. Can’t sail a boat unless you practice sailing. Can’t score a touchdown unless you play football. Can’t slay a dragon if you don’t pick up a sword and swing.

But I have to be careful not to over plan so that all I do is plan and prepare–that can be a bad thing. Have you read this incredible children’s book? It’s a cautionary tale on that particular error in writing process–over planning (or a tale of inspiration, if you really do need to slay a dragon).

The Knight Who Took All Day by James Mayhew

This book is one of my favorites of all time. Not only does it impart a wonderful literal message for children, but every single time I read, I am moved to:

1) Always keep my eyes open to wonder and danger.

2) Assume that I can do something if I decide to.

3) Live as if I can change the world with bravery and love.

I have often thought that the dragon in this book could BE writing to many (or the knight’s lack of focus). Writing is hard (and dangerous? or intimidating?) and so lots of people feel it’s a magic gift that only a few have been given. Not true–on any of those fronts.

Anyone can slay the dragon of writing if determined and by getting the right tools, stretching, being ready, picking up the sword, putting on the armor, practicing. It’s not a gift; it’s not luck; it’s not magic. It’s knowing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done. (Or, to be rhetorically specific, these are three concepts important to writing–and speaking–and they never get old for me: ethos, logos, pathos. Aristotle continues to rock in the 21st century.)

Writing could end up being a friendly dragon, a powerful and unexpected knight from an unexpected place (I can’t spoil the ending of the book by giving too much away!), and we might all find our way to a happier ending because of writing.

I’m happier because I write. Yes. Yes, I am. Right now, this minute. This second. Happier.

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Filed under A Writing Teacher Writes, Magic and Writing, Web Writing, Writing with Heart

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