The Poet Is Working

Some English teachers, college professors and instructors teaching creative writing say that when a writer is meditating he or she is still working, even when not actually writing. Some writers agree with them. And according to one story the French poet Saint-Pol-Roux used to even hang a sign outside his door while he retired for the night. “The poet is working.”

While James Thurber wrote: “I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a dinner party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing.’”

I myself belong to this group. I tend to daydream and meditate a lot. Nothing ever seems quite real to me at the moment it is happening. It’s as if I’m not there. Whatever I am experiencing at the moment never seems real enough until I evoke it again. Then I remember everything. I can go right back to any moment in my life, even the earlier stages and remember myself going from one phase to another. It’s part of my reason for writing really, to capture something- from the past and the present, and hold on to it.

When I get an idea for a piece to write or when I am working on my novel, I am always writing. I write while I eat, while I walk, while I watch TV, while I sleep. The only time that I don’t think about my writing is while driving. I repeat sentences and scenes in my head but I don’t actually write. I live in this more or less conscious meditative state until the idea is ripe enough for me to sit at my desk and start the actual writing. So yes I am constantly working.

And there are those who insist that a writer is only working when he or she is actually at his or her desk, pounding away at the keys of the keyboard. As E.L. Doctorow once said:

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”

Whether you belong to any of these groups, the one thing is certain is that to be a writer you have to keep on writing no matter what. You can’t make a habit out of writing first chapters. You have to produce regularly and on a daily basis a certain amount of written words. You have to finish that story or that book no matter how you do it, even if the financial rewards are not encouraging. Perseverance is the key to success, to any kind of success.

On this note I would like to repost a story by Dale Carnegie that I had posted earlier.

Years ago, a young man in London aspired to be a writer. But everything seemed to be against him. He had never been able to attend school more than four years. His father had been flung in jail because he couldn’t pay his debts, and this young man often knew the pangs of hunger. Finally, he got a job pasting labels on bottles of blacking in a rat-infested warehouse and he slept at night in a dismal attic room with two other boys – guttersnipes from the slums of London. He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he sneaked out and mailed his first manuscript in the dead of night so nobody would laugh at him. Story after story was refused. Finally, the great day came when one was accepted. True, he wasn’t paid a shilling for it, but one editor had given him recognition. He was so thrilled that he wandered aimlessly around the streets with tears rolling down his cheeks. The praise, the recognition that he received by getting one story in print, changed his whole career, for if it hadn’t been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in rat-infested factories. You may have heard of that boy, too. His name was Charles Dickens.


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5 Responses to The Poet Is Working

  1. It’s in the fallow time that the magic happens for me.

  2. Yannis Vatis says:

    “Perseverance”, “never give up”, “it’s not over until the fat lady sings”…all parts of the English language that urge us and others to keep doing what they want to do. I had never heard of that story about Dickens and now that I have I am filled with much hope for my own path.

  3. A writer’s mind is never idle, whether it looks like they are doing other things, or just staring into space, the wheels are still turning that mass of electrons that eventually become a story or poem. 🙂

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