Sunday, May 18, 2014

Any Amount and Any Time

Sometimes the little things turn out to be the big things. We know this about relationships. That remark on the first date. The joke made about the ex. The comment about a former boss. Later, we look back and sigh; we know that we knew. The little things were all there.

I have been writing for many years. Fiction, nonfiction, columns, essays and now two and a half books. Even I am surprised. I did all this writing with a big and busy day job, with a sad divorce, then a happy new marriage, several step kids and even cancer—his, mine and ours. And I kept on writing.

Recently my new book, “Out of the Woods”, was launched and I’ve been asked, “How did you do this with your job and travel and school and taking care of John? And I had to think about it for a minute. How did I do all that? It turns out that I did it in little bits and by writing “any amount” and anytime.

Yes, I have fantasized about a life of just writing. Once I took off two years to “just write” and it turned out that I didn’t like it much. I missed the “water-cooler” aspect of work. I discovered that I needed the socialization of a workplace—the problems and the people and the gossip. I write a lot about human beings and workplaces are full of them.

So I had to learn some tricks. My favorite writing tool came from my yoga teacher in Baltimore. When I would try a pose she would gently coax, “Can you stretch any amount more?” or “Can you hold it any amount longer?” Any amount. Just a little bit. Just a tad longer, higher, deeper, more. No giant commitments. No unreachable promises like: “I will write two hours each day.” Nope—just “any amount”. It turns out that writing is kind of like yoga and I could write “any amount” every day and it added up.

Something else that makes writing in a busy life possible: index cards. I take notes on index cards all the time. At work, at dinner, at church, in a cab. Index cards look so official that no one seems to notice or mind. And I'm writing.

I did learn not to write while I drive. I tried but it’s too scary. But another little tool helps me: I love my small tape recorder. Nope, not my phone. I know it can record but the phone reminds me of obligations. My little recorder is only for writing. And it reinforces that I can write anywhere.

For a long time I tried to only write at my desk, or only on retreat or only… Well, forget only. Writers write. I can write anywhere. It may not be brilliant but I capture ideas and write them down. Later, at my desk, I can make them prettier. Yeah, pretty does matter.

It turns out that writing is a lot like 12-step recovery: I do it one day at a time, in tiny bites and I do it everywhere in all of my life.

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