Practice Now

In preparation for an interview next month, I am reading a novel by yet another lawyer (David Ellis, in this case). I have met more lawyers and doctors because of Author than I had in my previous forty-two years. I believe this is in part because lawyers and doctors tend to be ambitious, hard-working types, which is an excellent place to start if you want to be a writer.

But it’s only a start. Unlike doctors and lawyers, who have problems brought to them, the problems writers solve are entirely our own making. This is part of why Hemmingway described writing as the loneliest profession. He may have been referring to the writer alone at his or her desk with these problems, but I believe now that the writer is loneliest during those anxious hours away from the work.

You can drive yourself mad while not writing worrying about what you will write or have written. Thus we have the alcoholic writer, numbing himself between writing sessions until he can get his hands back on the story and remember that it isn’t so complicated after all once you’re in it.

Everything will seem a little mysterious and illusory when you aren’t doing it. We always live in the moment whether we’re interested in the moment or not, and we can think all we want about some other moments that are to come or have already come, but thinking in this way becomes worrying as quick as you can ask, “What if?” All the worrying I have done about my writing while not writing has never improved it one inch.

And so the next time you’re away from your desk and worrying about writing, stop—but do it for this reason: The best way to improve your writing is to not think about it when you aren’t doing it. Pay attention to what you are doing at the moment. That way, when do at last return to your desk, you will have spent all those other hours being as present as you can be, which is the best practice for anything you will ever do.

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