I went to the dentist today. The dentist’s office is almost always rife with small talk, and there’s a good chance somebody is gonna ask you what you do for a living. (There’s a good chance said person will have her hands in your mouth when she asks, but that’s another post altogether.)
I teach writing for a living. When I tell people that (as I told the new hygienist today at the dentist’s office), they often ask if I write too. (A little bit of a weird question, but it’s true that not all writing teachers write, so it’s not a completely unfair weird question.) When I say yes, they sometimes ask if I’ve been published. When I answer that question, it usually stops there — a far cry from the response that comes from other writers, who, of course, want to know where I’ve been published and if I’ve published a book (oh, and PS, who published that).
The real world doesn’t care about all that: getting published is getting published, and anyway, small talk is supposed to stay small. So the questions usually stop there.
But sometimes somebody asks one more question (as the new hygienist did today):
I used to think there was a right answer to that question (three guesses as to what it is; hint: it starts with a Y). I don’t think so anymore. Now I’m more interested in whether I’m invested in a particular creative project. That investment can — and often does — take the form of tapping at the keys of my trusty laptop, but very few of my projects are fully sustained by that activity. They always require reading, watching, thinking, listening. Sometimes traveling. Other forms of seeking and experience.
A word count is just words on a page. For those words to mean something to me — much less anyone else — they have to be filtered (and usually refiltered) through those other forms of creative investment.
Therefore: sometimes, to write well, I actually have to stop writing.
In other words: sometimes to live well, I have to stop writing. (This is especially true when I’m feeling particularly inspired, particularly invested in the writing part of a writing project, when the words are coming fast and furious and, right or [too often] wrong, I feel like every one of them is a keeper.)
All of that represents a balancing act that I do perform each day. (Some days I’m better at it than others.)
If that’s what folks are asking when they ask me if I write everyday, then the answer is a proud and emphatic, “Absolutely!” At this point, for better or worse, I don’t know how else to live my life.
If they’re asking whether I’ve got something to show for it everyday, the answer is this: “Oh, good lord, no. I don’t.”
These days, I’m just as proud and emphatic about that answer, too.