WRITING WHILE LIVING

By Leslie Daniels Spalding MFA faculty, fiction

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I am struck by how many of my students write beautifully in the midst of very dense lives. Some are working extremely hard on other jobs, some have young families, or run their own businesses, or care for elderly parents.

I ask them when they write. Some get up at four AM, or write after everyone has gone to sleep. Some write on their lunch hours.

Don’t wait for the right time to write, it won’t come. If you look around and there is no competition for your writing time, no one to knock and demand that you come out and play, no one to need you, you may have shut the door too firmly on life. Crack it open!


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The only time to write is now, this day, this morning with coffee, this afternoon when everyone thinks you’re getting groceries. They won’t notice when you come back with a roasted chicken, a bag of apples, and half a chapter. You’ll be so happy with yourself that dinner will be a joyous picnic.

You can try to set up the ideal writing time, free of distractions and demands, but life will seep in, like flood water under the door.

Occasionally I will be deep in my work—this only happens when I am immersed—I’ve unplugged the phones and the modem, and yet the doorbell will ring. Two people stand outside who would like to tell me about their personal relationship with ________ (fill in religion here).

I talk to them because I too have faith. My faith is in kindness, in the belief that we are all in this together. I too have a mission: I want to be the nicest non-believer they will ever not convert. I want them to leave happy that we met.

I go back to my desk, laughing at how imperfectly perfect is my writing day. Get practiced at returning to your work. Let the impulse to write be unresisted.


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There is no escape; you will always be in the midst of your life. Most of what stops you from writing is not the semiannual evangelist at the door, nor the demanding and beloved people who share this planet, but an unarticulated fear that writing—the writing you will do this day—will not lead to meaning. I suggest that your meaning, the meaning of your life, is something you must make, not find.

Write now. Right now. There won’t be a better time.

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Leslie Daniels is the author of Cleaning Nabokov’s House, published in five languages and in development for film. She lives and writes in Ithaca, New York.

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