How I Begin to Write

We are done with breakfast, scrolling news—Phil has already resorted to funny Dad posts—when both of us declare, “ok, enough” and get up from the table. Yesterday, disappointed in my writing output, I announced that “tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I have no yoga class, no appointments, no need to leave the house and tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I will write.”

from the Charles Bridge, Prague, 2019

That inspired affirmation was last night. This morning, I tear myself away from the breakfast table news feed—just one more story, this one about the aging brain I must read—start to clean up the kitchen. “I’ll do it,” Phil says, taking that procrastination excuse out of my hands. Great. I’m on my way upstairs to the almost-solarium, as I indulgently refer to my study, where, this morning, the magic will happen.

But I’m paused by seeing the play program on the dining room table and trying to remember the question we had about its sponsors, so I backtrack to the kitchen, program in hand to ask Phil about it. That matter cleared up, I head upstairs again; turn, go back to the breakfast room to shut off my phone; turn, head upstairs; turn, come back through the kitchen, announce: “I’m doing a lot of pacing back and forth.”

Phil says he noticed. This is also a procrastination technique. I should double-dip and count the steps. I grab the New Yorker and say I’m going to the bathroom down here before I go to work. Doing that, it occurs to me I have as much interest in my production now as I did when I was a toddler. You know, proud of what I made. Look, Mom! In my old age, I’m mainly gratified to be able to produce anything.

November 2020, spruce in front of my house

I get involved in the New Yorker essay I’m reading because it relates both to literature and Ukraine; two interests, the first abiding, the second aroused by war. Who knew Odessa was in Ukraine, not Russia? And my beloved 19th century Russian writers: how could they fail to be influenced by living in Imperial Russia? They may have never considered Ukraine to be anything else but “Little Russia.” You can take the writer out of context but you can’t take the context out of the writer. Also, the past: they do things differently there.

I finally bestir myself and make the trek upstairs, brush my teeth, balefully regard the splattered bathroom mirror, think I need to clean it, reach for the spray cleaner. No, you don’t! My beleaguered writer-self says. It is already past nine. Remember the primary objective.

In my almost-solarium, to remove glare from the computer screen, I consume several minutes making minute adjustments to the mini-blinds. How I love alliteration. My writer-self shouts: stop it! Sit your ass in the chair. I do so, open the doc I’m supposed to be revising.

And so it goes, my friends. Epic, heroic struggles, every fucking day. I don’t know if efficient writers exist, but I am not one of them.


Writing prompt, should you so desire: how do you begin to write?


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20 Responses to How I Begin to Write

  1. Renardo says:

    Alas, often by responding to posts from people I don’t know on FB. Writing is a form of Shingles. .. .you don’t get rid of the bug and sometimes you get flareups

  2. Bob Jaeger says:

    Sometimes I dig through my pile of old notes on pages of various sizes as well as ideas scribbled on torn scraps of this and that some of which are completely illegible. Sometimes I just go for a walk with my notepad. Sometimes I go over things that I feel need to be revised for some reason, though that can be very frustrating. Most times I just give up and check the chore list or, if the sun and cool air beckon as they are doing right now, go for a walk without the notepad. Yes! I’m out the door as soon as I press “Post Comment.”

  3. normandsky says:

    How many decades will it take for us to stop being ruled by technology? How easy it is to contact so much of the world. How disappointing it is to find out that so little of the world cares anything about us at all. (This is only tangentially related to your enjoyable blog post. It was just something that occurred to me as I was reading. See you next time.)

  4. debr. says:

    This is the issue with having a studio in the house. I look at the little artist studios at Redline and periodically consider if things might be different if I had to GO someplace to make art. A place where there isn’t anything on the wall, just a table, an easel etc. But in spite of all the distractions I like working at home. By keeping something IN PROGRESS in my studio, it makes it easier to sit down and start WORK. I don’t have excuses like, oh I need to clean this off first etc. I admit that the NYT is a major time drain in the morning with my coffee since I got my subscription, but I do love the access to so many great articles, recommendations, ideas.

    • dubrava says:

      Deb, you remind me of Toni Morrison, who when she was able to do it, rented a room, kept it bare except for a desk and went to it like going to work. Your studio, though, is a delightful place, and like you, I love not having to leave the house, especially on snow days.

  5. Bob Jaeger says:

    A lovely walk and no guilt, but then I have never been able to write with anything close to the discipline and dedication you have cultivated over the years.

  6. With time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, I can’t wait to get upstairs to my study in the morning, it’s my excuse to not do any of those chores/tasks I should be doing (and I’m further prodded by my publishers’ deadline if I want my third book out this fall). My biggest problem is desperately wanting to write something new, rather than digging through my ms to do that tedious fine-tuning. I love diving into writing first thing, fast as I can, because the world around me just disappears when I’m with my best friends, those argumentative, seductive, wonderful Words.

    • dubrava says:

      David, I have always said that deadlines are effective motivators, especially if you’re so fortunate as to have a publisher deadline. Congrats! Also, yes, once I’m in the flow, the rest of the world goes away.Thanks for this.

  7. Barbara Fairchild says:

    I hope you continue your “epic, heroic struggles” because your writing is appreciated. I find I have lost interest in writing except for the personal correspondences that I enjoy. It’s amazing how much time I spend with emails. In truth, I probably never enjoyed writing though I taught it and I like to share ideas and be heard.
    When we first retired we moved to Paris. Dan attended a language school every day (learning mostly how to speak like Pepe Le Peu) and I got a serious pen and legal pad to do that wonderful writing I was finally going to have time to do. Turns out life was excellent and I didn’t have that much to say because I was very happy. Luckily I still am and my lack of writing continues.
    Now get back to your writing!

    • dubrava says:

      Barbara, I see you’re a subscriber to the “you gotta suffer if you want to sing the blues” theory of writer motivation. I’m been on that bandwagon myself. But these days, I have to say, it is the joy and satisfaction writing brings that keeps me going, despite my struggles to get started. Thanks for your appreciation! And I hope to hear about your three-month sojourn in Japan. You do write emails, I hear. That counts as writing.

  8. Sylvia says:

    I know you are being serious in your dilemma, but I love your humor.
    I cannot believe you actually said “fucking”! I love and appreciate your blogs.

    • dubrava says:

      Sylvia, without a sense of humor, many of us wouldn’t survive! On the profanity: I’ve been using that word more and more in my old age.

  9. Sue Holbrook says:

    Are you kidding? Efficient people don’t write. They’re too busy thinking with the other side of their brain. My approach is just like yours. Once I get there and get settled, it’s my happy place.

  10. Jenny-Lynn says:

    Writing in bed is my best option. Put on pants, ask the husband for coffee, and begin. Even the “commute” to the dining room table is too fraught with distractions! And, oh, how clean the bathroom is on scanty writing days. Lovely post and delightful discussion.

    • dubrava says:

      Yes! Jenny-Lynn, Alta, the one-name writer, asked, back in the 60s: how often do we have clean sheets and nothing on sheets of paper?

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