Being Writer. Writer Being.
In which P examines, explores, and most importantly interrogates a few favourite romantic ideas around being a writer.
These days I’ve been feeling like my job as a writer is to simply find and share memes that best capture #writinglife. Of course, in reality, i.e. when I am not just being flippant in the opening of an essay, this works as a break from the actual writing. Because it helps bookend the day/week, a tool to structure what otherwise seems to melt away or become pointless - the winged chariot of Time. And of course, TBH, it only works well if I don’t allow myself to get sucked into the meme rabbit hole - a fall so delicious it’s my first clue it’s bad for me. Or maybe that’s too extreme.
But of course, if it means giving into the temptation myself, of attempting to write #writinglife memes, then maybe it all works out in the end? ‘The thing we get wrong about writing is the desk. It doesn’t exist. The desk is in my brain. It’s lodged between the colourful Pop-It thingie my daughter randomly kills time with. It’s floating somewhere between the clouds. The desk is actually in my shower’. (Okay, that’s too long for a meme).
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In March this year, I did that ultimate being writer thing. I plotted the big, romantic escape into the hills to write. I got myself the room with a view (Woolf was right about that) that did not include colourful Pop-Its, but deodar trees, mountains, lush greens in bloom, dreamy clouds. Of course, I always knew some things can never really exit mindspace altogether - such as laundry - but there was more than just domestic thoughts creeping up on me (Woolf wasn’t right about that, I suppose?). To say that I missed the peeps back home doesn’t cover it - and I firmly believe we should all miss each other from time to time, it does us plenty good. It was more this experiential reckoning of an obvious fact: When I write, I am not some other exclusive writer being floating outside of myself; when I write, all of me writes. Turns out I am never completely disassociated from those Pop-Its.
It comes as a surprise to many, if not most. During this time in March, I encountered several people in whose eyes I was just that - the writer being. Because which woman-mother-wife just plants herself far away from home, to write (cue another Woolf haunting)? I mean, this is not a work trip. Is it? I never knew how to answer that. Or rather, I saved myself the energy of getting into the philosophical meaning of work. Because somehow it would only add weight to the writer being - kyonki aise kaun sochta hai? Work means work only. It was infinitely better, I found, to discuss food instead. Or the abundance of spring that surrounded us all. One gentleman in particular, I remember, thought me a most peculiar creature - he would forever try and draw linkages between my yoga practice and my writer being. ‘It must be how you stay in the zone’, he concluded over lunch one day. I didn’t have the heart, or energy, to tell him how I’d spent the entire morning shuttling between finding the best spot to write and of course, the meme rabbit hole. (I believe there were hats involved too - which one can both protect from the sun and look good?). Instead, I listened to him talk about how, predictably, he’s always wanted to be one too - that writer being. (I think he practiced law).
I did my laundry that day.
What does staying in the zone mean when you’re a writer? All my life, and especially of late as a “bonafide writer” (i.e. published by “well-known publications”), one word that has been thrown at me again and again - to the point of frustration - is self-discipline. ‘It’s amazing how disciplined you are’, ‘I wish I could be as disciplined as you’, ‘I’m so envious of your discipline’, ‘I could never do it, but you, with your discipline, can’, ‘Two weeks to write? Only you can do it, you’re so disciplined’. I’ve become better at managing my annoyance at it - erm, slightly - and it has made me think about deeper meanings of discipline and how we don’t talk about it like that, but it hints at being in the zone, doesn’t it?
Because when that happens, we all know how special it feels. Writer or not. How many times have I lost myself - thankfully! - because I was in the zone. It has happened on walks. During yoga (lawyer-writer might just be onto something!). While writing. During sex. Skygazing. In conversations. And in so many, many moments with my daughter - years ago, it was when we drew and painted together; these days, it’s often in conversations (she prefers the term ‘hang-out’). Writer being in the zone might mean an output that makes you beam - let’s admit it, anything beyond the soul-crushing blinking cursor on a blank page qualifies - but often there are less tangible outcomes on the other side of being in zones. It is different from losing a sense of time - though that does happen too - and it is the very opposite of drifting away. (Because that can happen washing dishes - indeed, it was the pandemic-lockdown revelation for me, urging me to invest in a good pair of dishwashing gloves, before we had the sense to invest in a dishwasher instead - though I do long for that kind of drifting off at times).
So how about we look for it more mindfully in our lives instead of relegating it to that romantic space of creativity where the mood needs to be set, the ambience perfect, choice of beverage at hand (write drunk, edit sober, miss deadline, anyone?), and the process elevated and put on a pedestal to admire from afar?
I know it’s not easy. I have been guilty of it myself, having spent years probing, analyzing, and being awed by writer beings and their lives, rituals, trying to get at what makes them writers. Often asking them those hallowed process questions that I was certain meant something intensely unique: ‘Do you write at night?’ and everyone’s favourite ‘What do you see when you look out the window?’. And on this side of #writinglife now, I find myself amused (at best) enraged (at worst) at how much we’ve let the romantic idea dominate and take over the writer being in culture. Not that I have anything against process, but process is process. Sure, I’m annoyed at being interrupted while writing, but I am also equally annoyed if that happens while in the process of going to sleep.
Speaking of amused, I was recently asked which font I prefer to write in. I thought it one of the better wide-eyed questions that get thrown at writers, and as my mind ran through potential responses - a) Wingdings b) I have decided to not write until they make a font in my name c) Meh, Imma moody about fonts - I read the room and went with what I felt needed to be said. ‘Whatever. It’s a job. I have a deadline’.
My follow-up for another day? ‘Why don’t we ask our accountants what music they listen to as they file our returns?’ (Speaking of, there’s a deadline around the corner nobody can afford to miss, writer or not, zone or not). Not that I’m making a case to romanticize accountants - even as I predictably fall into the creative-writer functional-accountant binary trap - but maybe it’s time?
Post script by T
I was at a writing workshop-cum-retreat a whole week this month, where we discussed, among other things, ‘process.’ Of late I have become interested in process. In that sense, my writing being seems to be moving in the direction opposite to P.’s!
I have been habitually chaotic as a writer. I never did seek desks or routines. I also took great pride in beginning projects close to deadlines and (usually) seeing them through. The problem is, however, I am getting sucked into more and more projects. All exciting but also all somewhat different. How to keep track? What to prioritize? Turns out, I need process after all.
There is little romance in process though. My most recent (two-day-old) process is keeping track of time I am devoting to a draft on an Excel sheet shared with a bunch of writer friends. Nothing looks less romantic but this process, somewhat shared and collaborative, also feels fun. In the end though, P is right: writing is writing, process is process. The goal is not to confuse the two, as always.
More from T & P
True to her July mood, P recommends other writing about not writing this month. Why I am not a Writer (super recco via dear friend, thanks much Jugni!) is also bite-sized, YW!
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Firstly, what's a POP IT and WHERE HAS IT BEEN HIDING ALL MY LIFE.
But secondly, I'm a process junkie who has resisted (hated) all questions (even to self) around filmmaking processes, because I often feel the doing of the deed (writing, filming, filing taxes) exists somewhere between the verbal and the non-verbal, the real and ephemeral, the conscious and subconscious (hello, laundry), and spelling it out may just be doing the actual deed a...disservice?
Am I superstitious? NO NOT AT ALL TOUCH WOOD THOO THOO
Sometimes the way to cure yourself of process is to ask yourself of the process in everything except writing. It's blah, it's meh, this whole process thing, everybody does it all the time (including, alas, accountants). But the writer zone, my friend, that one is special to only to some, tell us some more about it :) Loved the essay, and the postscript!