On Writing in the Interstices

Pencil“I can’t not write.” I hear people say it all the time. To this I say, “Bullshit.”

Not writing is easy. Writing is hard. Writing well is insanely difficult. And writing well with a family and a full-time job and all the day-to-day concerns of life seems nigh on impossible.

That’s why I write – if you can call it that – in those stolen moments of solitude: fifteen minutes standing nearly catatonic in the shower, tasting different word combinations on my tongue; ten minutes walking to the bus stop, drawing lines between characters and events; twenty minutes rocking a discontented baby in the middle of the night. An hour-long lunch break is a surfeit of time that almost takes my breath away, when it happens.

At the same time, there’s a symbiosis that occurs between the desire to write and those tiny interstices between life’s mundanities. Daily constraints force me to sharpen my focus, hone my intentions, and pare my thoughts down all the way to the core. The result is that each word I entrust to paper is precious: carefully considered and weighed. With all the time in the world, would I take such pains? I think I would not.

So I can “not write.” In fact, just this past week, I did it twice, skipping two writing prompts that both intrigued me and sparked some interesting ideas. The trudge through the fog seemed particularly daunting, and I gave in – sat down in the middle of the road and rested. The trick is to remember why you set out in the first place, as Mr. Gaiman puts it, and to get back up. It would be the easiest thing in the world to continue not writing. Not writing is easy. Writing is hard.

7 thoughts on “On Writing in the Interstices

  1. jesterqueen says:

    Oh so true. I’ve been fighting it my whole life. My Dad. Oh my Dad. He always had shit jobs, never brought in enough money, and turned around and spend it on expensive recording equipment instead of things like food. And he would say “I write music. I sing. It’s what I do.”

    I didn’t get it.

    I just knew I didn’t want to be it.

    Only I AM going to be it. Every year I come closer to being it, and I’m terrified and hopeful about the prospect.


  2. chrstnj says:

    That’s a different perspective – thanks! Writing for me is less about catharsis, and more about wordplay. I love creating new, evocative ways for words to bump up against each other; I like to write *around* what I’m trying to say – to insinuate, rather than declare. I wish I had more of a story to tell (in the full-length, plot-based sense of story), but the little vignettes I’ve been doing are very satisfying in their own way.

    I think what I was railing against in my post (while simultaneously embracing, oddly enough) was my own lack of time to spend on writing. Usually, when people say “I can’t not write,” it sounds decadent to me – like writing is some hedonistic vocation that consumes them entire. What a luxury, to have that sort of time! A huge generalization that points more at my own attitude problem than anything else.

    It’s true, however, that I can’t not *think* about writing, even if I’m not doing it. I *want* to write all the time – I tuck little bits and pieces away from every conversation I have, every landscape I view. But I can’t – and don’t really want to – spend all my time writing. It’s an issue of finding the balance between the joy of creating something beautiful, and the joy that comes with the rest of life. I suppose, now that I think of it, that that’s not a bad place to be.


  3. jesterqueen says:

    I agree with you. To a point. When I say that I can’t not write, what I mean is that they’d have to institutionalize me if I didn’t write. There were four years, bleak years, when I had no writing. Not just ‘oh gee can’t write without my muse’ stuff but n-o-t-h-i-n-g. I knew I was bipolar. I’ve known that for ages. I just didn’t know it stole my writing. Only in retrospect do I realize how tightly I walked the line between staying out with the regular people and being in the psych ward. I had three or four episodes that probably should have landed me on the other side of the line. I was saved largely by my husband.

    That’s what I mean about ‘I can’t not write’. If I don’t sit down and write at least once a day, I blow up. Guaranteed. It’s like I’ve got a ‘writing’ timer, and if it runs down too far, my life goes haywire. I’ve heard the stereotype that mental illness generates creativity. Perhaps it fuels some of my idea process. But it gets in the way of my writing. And at its worst, it prevents me from thinking of ideas.

    Writing gives me the catharsis I need to keep the crazy a safe distance from my family. (That and good drugs. I had to get those when the writing went away. If you search bipolar on jesterqueen you’ll see me rattling on about it.) It gets dangerous for others if I don’t write.


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