The Bottom Of The Well
I write fiction for two hours every morning, a duration that yields me between 1,200 and 1,500 words. I have noticed that 1000 of these words usually come in the last 45 minutes. It took me many, many years to grow comfortable with this way of working. It was one thing to write a poem or a short story, but novels are long, and if you’re every going to finish one you will need to get a lot of words on the page. Best to get typing before the clock runs down and a day is wasted. Then I watched Gary Kasparov play chess against a computer. It was televised on ESPN one afternoon, complete with play-by-play and color commentators. As with all standard tournaments, each player was given two hours to make 40 moves. I tuned in as Kasparov and the computer were locked in the Middle Game, often the most deliberative portion of the competition. Kasparov made a move and sat back in this chair. Then we heard from the color guy:
“Oh, no,” he whispered. “He’s going to lose a pawn!”
A minute later, Kasparov, known as an emotional chess player, saw his mistake. He moaned and put his head in his hands. The computer made its move. Now Kasparov’s clock was running. What did he do? Got up from his chair and took a little walk around the studio, the clock still running. Then, having calmed himself, he sat back in his chair, leaned over the board, and began to think.
For fifteen minutes. Over one move. Remember, he only has two hours total for 40 moves. But he had reached a critical point, and he needed to see deeper into the game. Finally, he made his move, and three or four moves later, the game was saved.
Patience, I thought. Einstein said if he had only one hour to solve a problem he would spend the first forty-five minutes trying to understand the problem and the last fifteen minutes solving it. In this way, my first hour spent not putting words on the page are perhaps more important than the last hour when I am. Here is where I learn the way back to my story, a journey I find more satisfying the older I get. Yet it is a journey that can only be taken in stillness, sinking below the surface of thought, where time has no power because it does not yet exist.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.