Random Thoughts on Writing

In our semi-retirement, Phil and I are blessed: we each have a workroom in this house and we each have our work. We share meals but often spend mornings and afternoons in our rooms, me in the silence necessary for writing and Phil with old radio shows as background for his digital art projects.

As an introvert, I know social engagement is good for me and I try to take it regularly, like medicine. Some such activity, like a walk with a long-time friend is stimulating, but more than four to six people at a time makes me feel as if I’m bracing for the seventh wave. I come home depleted.

Anne Lamott says she was a young person who “accepted being alone quite a lot. I think that this sort of person often becomes either a writer or a career criminal.” Books were Lamott’s refuge, of course. I suspect that’s not the case with those lonely children who become criminals.

City Park, October 2023

April is poetry month and the NaNoWriMo virus about November novel writing has infected the poetry contingent, so now poets pledge to write a poem a day (NaPoWriMo) in April. Some of those poems brightened my Facebook feed, since I count any number of poets as friends. I used to be one myself. They managed to write some decent poems, keepers among them. I suppose there’s a lesson in this.

“Literature owes a great deal to enforced idleness, whether the writer be sick or in prison.” Unnamed critic, quoted by Lydia Davis. Proust, confined to his bed. I would love to be as prolific as he was but would not like to sacrifice my health to accomplish it—or my freedom. Wilde, Mandela, Gramsci, from prison. Did the “enforced idleness” of the pandemic produce more writing?


An hour gone because an editor asked for three more changes. It’s been seven months since I submitted this essay. They told me they wanted it two weeks ago, along with a tracking changes markup, which I edited and returned the next day. (We had differences of opinion about commas.) Another exchange and we were supposed to be done. Today’s journals are mostly online, and editors can say things like, “this goes live tomorrow, so could you edit paragraph four by noon?”

Neighborhood walk, October 2023

I’m susceptible to a lack of light. If no writing has happened by four in the winter, when the sun sinks behind the school across the street, no writing will happen. Sundowning?

Observing my high school writers, long ago: as one young man starts a story, the words bloom fluently across the screen, flowing down the doc. Then stop. The child stares at it, cursor blinking, blinking. Clicks away, goes to a game, a candy crush kind of thing, cat videos, trailers for upcoming movies, email. Five minutes. Ten. I’m thinking I should give him a nudge when he clicks on the doc again. Cursor blinking. Words flow anew. This is how creativity works.


Four rejects in a row, soft body blows. Translations, my own work. The memoir essay I’ve labored over for months (draft 4) went to two trusted readers who both say, “I have a lot of questions.” As soon as I hear that, I see the flaws, the steep cliff I have yet to climb, feel the ache left by the rejections, spend a day despondent. What’s the point of trying to get published? I’m too old, should give up writing, take up knitting. The day after, I recognize that it’s the same old writer insecurity I’ve always had. I’ll wait until I get my trusty readers’ comments before I look at that memoir again. Meanwhile, I start chipping at a perhaps poem.


Prompt, if you choose: Did you write/create art more in the pandemic lockdown? Or do more of something else? Post replies on the blog, not Facebook, which will only bury them.

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19 Responses to Random Thoughts on Writing

  1. normandosky says:

    If I had been able to handle being alone when I was first on my own I would have created a LOT more art. It’s not my friends’ fault, I just couldn’t say “No.”

  2. Michael Stipek says:

    For many people, such as myself, the Covid era was a blessing – if you’re a loner, an introvert (is there a difference, can we have a discussion about a possible variance in self-time?). Being a photographer, I always traveled alone around the US or in foreign countries, looking for things to take a picture of. I enjoyed watching people play with their children in a plaza or playground or just walking down the street. Watching not interacting. Covid slammed the door on that travel.
    But all of the subsequent alone time wasn’t bad at all. I read a lot of books, watched a bit of Netflix (why doesn’t it have classic movies, mostly bangbangboomboom?). I avoided Zoom like the plague – it was just too distant from whatever the human psyche needs for interactive refreshment, however limited.
    I had wanted to be a writer, a poet, in my younger days. Most of my poetry was even published in those little group-printed booklets (ah, the vanity!). Photography stepped up and showed me a way to be alone without the critics, the editors, the readers. The comma-commies.
    My maternal grandmother wrote about anything, just to sell some copy somewhere, make a few dollars to fill out her Social Security checks. She was working on a singular novel forever, up to the day she went into hospital and didn’t come out. Age 95. My hero!
    So, keep at it, Pat. You’re a good writer, you have empathy and integrity in your writing. So a few commas get bullied about. Just grin and bear it. At least you’re not on Zoom!

    • dubrava says:

      Thanks, Mike for the encouragement and your grandmother’s story. I’d forgotten—or not realized—that Covid shut down the traveling photography business for you.

  3. Barbara Fairchild says:

    I’ve always been a decent writer and I even taught it at the U of Miami, but I never really enjoyed writing. Now I’m happy reading, and saving my writing for personal emails mostly – and those addicting video games which I try to limit even though they are such an excellent escape from current news and politics. I always enjoy your writing.

  4. My first book arrived alongside the pandemic in April, 2020, followed by reviewers fleeing their offices, and bookstores shutting their doors. So I disappeared into my study honing my craft (I hope), and put together another, which my publisher graciously accepted in spite of the Covid-massacre of my first, and then I discovered I had created an unstoppable, addictive habit of sewing words and lines together, my third collection released a few weeks ago. In a way, I’d say the pandemic lockdown finally freed me to do what I always wanted to do, but which I had always put to one side in favor of earning a living. I’ve never been happier.

    • dubrava says:

      A story after every poet’s heart! Congrats again on those books. Add a link to the new one here if you like. I had a signed contract for a collection of translation essays when Covid put that little press out of business. So it goes.

  5. Deb R. says:

    I’m an artist but don’t think of myself as a “painter,” yet during the pandemic I completed my largest ever oil painting. Titled “Dressing for Spring,” it celebrates the halt in all things, fashion and dressing up particularly: pretty pastels, all models masked, and pushing away at each other. The big, floriated virus in the center holding it all together. I took a three painting classes on line during the pandemic, not the ideal way to learn, but I did love constantly being in my studio that year with good feedback. Didn’t sell a one, but they still make me happy when I view them sitting around my studio. It’s nice to sell something now and then–validation, but I do it anyway because I can’t stop. We’re artists because we HAVE to, so hopefully we enjoy it as well. (And then there’s my PERA and SS to lean on!). Last week I got an opportunity to potentially hang about 45 of my small collages in a new hotel in NYC. Not sure if it will actually come to fruition but sometimes these things come out of the blue when you least expect them! Continue to love what you do.

    • dubrava says:

      Deb, another highly encouraging post! You’re correct, of course. Couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to. For you, sales are what publication is for writers, only for us, the majority of publications don’t pay. Crossing my fingers for the NY hotel. Love those small collages of yours.

  6. Joe H says:

    Pat, this post made my head buzz like a beehive. My last book was the fruit of the pandemic, though I wrote nothing new then. The poems were all revisions of poems I’d long intended to “perfect” (a word that richly deserves the dismissive quotation marks). I would never had gotten to them if not for COVID.

    The bigger picture, though … the lives of artists and the arts … the real illness is in the system that has conned us into thinking that publication or display has anything to do with the quality or value of the art. And by extension our value as artists. The pandemic in tested our sense of self-worth, but in my lifetime it has always been tested by the failure of art to translate into Capital—or more accurately, the failure of Capital to discover art. (Yes, there is Banksy and few others like him. Capital loves stunts: Trump’s mugshot netted him $2 million within 24 hours of its publication.) But maybe this is because there is nothing essentially real about Capital. It’s “made up” in a way that art is not….

    Should I have some cheese with this whine?

    • dubrava says:

      Joe, and then there are all those who say “why should you get paid? You’re doing what you love,” implication being what—that one must hate one’s work to deserve to be paid for it? And BTW, Under Sleep’s New Moon: Rescued Poems, 1970 – 1990 is a worthy work.

  7. Michael Stipek says:

    I’m really enjoying all of the comments, especially from artists/writers who are struggling to succeed, in sales if not creativity.
    I neglected to add a completion to my maternal grandmother’s story: She wrote human interest articles and took the B/W pix of her subjects. She would then print the images in her little home darkroom. After everything was polished, she would take the pix and story to her editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; after an exchange of opinions/an attempt to crop the photos, etc., it would run in the paper. However, she finally wore out. At the age of 74, she stopped being a reporter, got tired of bicycling from the northern Seattle suburbs to the paper downtown, pedaling up and down those mean streets. She never learned to drive a car.
    Then she got serious about working on her novel!
    So, the message from this is – never give up pedaling (intended) your work around, whether it is written, filmed or acted. Keep on keeping’ on.

  8. Michael Stipek says:

    Gosh! I keep on remembering good things about my maternal grandmother (I called her Nana, she loved the nickname).
    Whenever I would visit her in Seattle, I would always take her out for a nice dinner, since her SS didn’t cover pricey meals. Something happened every time: she would see a group of teenagers hanging around, near the restaurant. Immediately she would walk over to them; initially, they would roll their eyes back in their collective noggins, some looking for an escape route. But within just a few moments, they would be laughing with her, then hugging her and telling her come back again!
    What was her secret: right at the start of her conversation with them, she would ask them about themselves, listening to them, saying nice things about them, compliments, what have you. She never talked about herself.
    I have tried to use this method when talking to students in my classes, where appropriate. I get a lot of high fives, fist bumps, thank yous. Thank you, Nana!
    Also, a final note: she worked in the soup line on Sundays at her church, feeding the homeless. Until she was 95.
    Thanks to all of you who read Pat’s blog for bearing with me on these long paragraphs!

  9. Jenny-Lynn says:

    This post and these responses are so heartening. Thanks, Pat, you poet, for all of your posts.
    Covid stalled my writing, at least on the surface, but it did teach me that a nearly empty social calendar can not only be tolerated, but settled into, even savored. As a sensitive extrovert, I need my people, and then I need solitude and time in nature to recharge. This early morning, catching up on “Holding the Light” while family and dogs sleep, has been as soothing as this first glow of snow on fences and late-hanging leaves.

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