Doing Nothing

Writing is not thinking, it is active listening. When we are actively listening to another person, we are not just hearing their words. That is, I am not actively listening merely because I could recite back verbatim what someone else just said. Rather, just as a reader is not really reading unless he is bringing that book to life in his imagination, so too I am not actively listening unless I am brining the words of my conversational partner to life in my imagination – seeing in my mind the story he is telling and, most importantly, feeling the fear, joy, relief, or hope the story is trying to convey. Writing is this same process in reverse. Whereas in conversation I focus on my partner’s words to allow the feelings they are trying to convey to bloom in my imagination, while writing I focus on the feeling I want to convey and allow my imagination to provide the scenes, sentences, and words that match those feelings. I am focused because the longer I keep my attention on the feeling, the easier it is for the imagination to provide what I am asking for.

Yet I am listening because I am not trying to provide the words myself. I am listening because I have asked a question: “How can I best describe that moment when I first saw Jen?” When I ask a guest on my show a question, I do not then answer it myself. So too with my writing. If I want to know how to describe that moment when I first saw Jen, I remember that moment, remember what it felt like, remember exactly what it felt like, and stay there within that feeling until the words arrive.

If I move my attention away from the feeling, the words will not come. If I doubt they will come, they will not come. If I am impatient, they will not come. If I believe a better writer would find better words, they will not come. They will only come when I stop thinking, and stop worrying, and stop doubting, and starting feeling and waiting and feeling and waiting. What a strange way to make a living. On my best days, it is as if I am being paid for doing nothing, which I suppose in a way is true.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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