It’s officially summer. Although it’s been almost 40 years since it mattered, every May and June feels like the end of the school year. Tired of studying. Tired of the “required” reading. Tired of talking about school subjects, about mock arguments, practice trials, law notes, senior papers. Looking forward to a summer job of doing.
Many writing workshops go on summer hiatus, and many writers, whether in “school” or not, are tempted to give themselves the summer off. And why not?
There’s so much to do out of doors in a city like Chicago, where summer is crammed into a handful of weekends not otherwise spoken for with weddings, family reunions, sports leagues and the like. Why “waste” any of that precious good weather inside at a desk, struggling to write a few good words that may or may not make their way to publication? When there is so much else to do, why write in the summer?
Why write at all?
Once, as a present for a writing teacher, the members of the class each wrote on an index card “Why I Write,” and my list went something like this:
- I just feel better when I do.
- I like to type.
- I’m addicted to apparent productivity.
- I’m good at it.
- It puts me in another place, outside of myself.
- I notice things I otherwise wouldn’t.
- I understand better other people’s perspectives on things.
- I get to play with ideas.
- It puts me in touch with the spiritual.
- I’ve always wanted to.
- Recently, I came across a Twitter trend, #WhyIWrite, and found an even wider variety of reasons, some of which might apply to you:
- For entertainment: “No one else is writing the stories I want to read.”
- For the magic: “Because creating something that didn’t exist before is as close to magic as I’ll ever get.”
- For mental health: “To quiet the voices in my head.”
- For self-confidence: “It makes me feel smart.”
- For the feeling of freedom: “Life has limitations. Writing doesn’t.”
- For religious reasons: “Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.” 1 Chron 16:24
- Because you are a Jim Morrison fan: “Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors.”
- To stay out of jail: “Because kidnapping people and forcing them to act out your interesting make-believe worlds is technically illegal.”I was particularly drawn to the person who tweeted:
- Included in the feed is some of the usual pap about dying if unable to write, not having a choice, “because I must,” etc. Or because, as William Faulkner said, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.” All a little profound for my taste. Even “beats painting walls” is a bit precious for me.
- Sheer egoism
- Aesthetic enthusiasm
- Historical impulse
- Political purposeAs we’ve said here before, the only way to get unblocked is to write your way through it. The same for fear. For a writer, it’s OK to rest; it’s not OK to run away.Maybe it’s an age thing, but I seem to have developed the art of forgetting my own prose, which allows me to read it like a reader. You don’t have to edit, but you can mark places that you might want to come back to, to refine or develop further, now that you’re further along in the novel as a whole.Have a wonderful summer vacation. We’ll be back in August.
- Bottom line, we write because we enjoy it, and in a life with many opportunities for enjoyment, it’s OK for a writer to take some time off from writing, remembering, as we’ve often written in this column, that everything we do and experience is material.
- If, in fact, you’re taking the summer off from writing your novel, this might be a good time to read it. You probably have some distance from the time you wrote the first pages, so you might be able to read them as a stranger would.
- Given any of those reasons, one can understand the inclination to take time off. To relax the ego, enjoy alternate aesthetic exercises, live for the summer moment, step off the soapbox. Being tired is understandable. But being tired is different than being blocked or being afraid.