I got into a spat with my wife yesterday while trying to pick out a Christmas present for my niece. Part of the problem was that as the selection of this gift moved into its advanced stages, the clock in my head counting down the minutes I was not writing began ticking louder and louder. This is a sound that can drive me toward a position that is useful for neither picking out Christmas presents nor promoting marital harmony, namely, “Can we just get this damn thing over with?”
Of course, once I did get to my writing I was so flummoxed from the post-present-picking row that nothing of value was written. This seemed just. Impatience is stingy this way. It inevitably teaches us that we can live indefinitely without that which we believe we must have immediately.
Fortunately, my wife and I mended our differences, and I gave up working before I dug myself into an ugly narrative hole. On that day, I would have to face the truth that there were more important things than my novel. I am not always willing to cop to this, but the facts point continuously toward that conclusion.
I was reminded that sometimes it is just as important for a writer not to write. I must be able to step away from my desk knowing I will return. My tie to the work cannot be so fragile that one foul day spoils my interest forever. So step away. The same instinct that drives me toward my work can also guide me away from it. If I listen to this instinct only when it is telling me to write, then I am not really listening.
Life courses all around the cocoon of our work. And good thing. It is our clay, our tools, and our inspiration. If it seeps in under the door sometimes and calls to us, go ahead and follow. The work cannot go anywhere we are not.