1001 reasons for not writing

Silk’s Post #5 — Followers of this blog can be forgiven if they’re beginning to suspect that much of what we have to say about our 5 writers challenge to write 5 full length books in 5 months is dominated by … well, may as well admit it … excuses for why we aren’t writing.

Here’s a few apologia topics so far: too many distractions … been on the road … still outlining … need to finish rewriting my previous book … visiting a friend … too busy doing (fill in blank). These are real world interruptions, not made-up excuses. And there must be 1001 reasons – legitimate ones – for failing to get 1000 words on the page each and every day. I’m going to now add one more, and then I promise I will not make further excuses. At least not in this blog.

Next to “the dog ate my homework”, mine is probably the most common excuse of all time: I’m sick. Some kind of delightful plague I picked up on my travels has left me immobile on the couch today, under an afghan, cat draped over my feet. I’m so passive, I haven’t even had the energy to switch off the football game on TV (which usually sends me hurtling for the remote). My throat feels like it’s lined with ground glass, I have a sinus headache that throbs painfully when I move, and my skin is grouchy all over. I hate being sick, and rarely succumb to a bug. So besides feeling lousy, I’m also feeling … irritated.

Gate to ‘The Breakers’ (or perhaps a fancy pants symbol for writer’s block?).

Looking for a balm to cope with this flu bomb, I cracked open a slim, homemade-looking book I happened to pick up last week in (of all places) ‘The Breakers’, the most stupendous of the Newport, Rhode Island ‘summer cottages’, which was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in the gilded age of the late 1800s. After a tour of this 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, I discovered  Quotes for Writing by Janet Alexander Pell among the fancy china, the estate jewelry reproductions and the sumptuous coffee table books in the museum gift shop. She has made quite a nice little industry out of self-published ‘Books of Quotes.’

What’s delightful about this particular collection of quotes for writers – although not really a unique idea – is the intelligence and charm of the chosen quotes, and how applicable they  are to the 5 writers challenge. Why? They reveal the common angst, excuse-making, quest for discipline and need for inspiration shared by writers since … well, probably since the first word was chipped into a stone tablet. In fact, it’s amazing how much our writing forebears’ sentiments seem to channel the 5 writers blog.

What Ms. Pell has done is assemble common sentiments that are expressed with uncommon elegance.

Take this deft quote from Ursula K. Le Guin on the subject of A Writer’s World: “First sentences are doors to worlds.” Or this quip attributed to Washington Irving: “The only happy author in this world is he who is below the care of reputation.” (This suggests all the 5 writers should be happy indeed, given that no one has heard of any of us, at least as writers).

Three sections of this collection are of special interest to the 5 writers at this stage in our projects, and I’d like to share some of my favourite quotes from each, with gratitude to Ms. Pell. (By the way, you can buy her compilations online here).

Discipline …

“If one waits for the right time to come before writing, the right time never comes.” — James Russell Lowell

“With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverence all things are attainable.” — Thomas Buxton

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” — Mary Heaton Vorse

“Give yourself artificial deadlines. Tell yourself, ‘I will mail this story by April 3 (or May 14, or August 8).’ Tell everyone else, too: fellow workshop participants, your spouse, your mother, your kids. Ask them to ask you whether the story’s gone out. Make it such a big deal that you must finish polishing or you’ll feel like the biggest fool in the world.” — Nancy Kress (who seems to have anticipated the 5 writers’ challenge, and the terrifying risk it entails)

“Can anything be sadder than work unfinished? Yes, work never begun.” — Helen Keller (whose kind words take some of the terror out of that risk)

Angst …

“Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad, and even more terrifying the difference between it and true art. And after that, the whip came down.” — Truman Capote

“Writing a book is a horrible exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” — George Orwell

“I get a warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it; writing is hell.” — William Styron

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — Gene Fowler

“Writing is a dog’s life, but the only one worth living.” — Gustave Flaubert

Inspiration …

“We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power. What those powers that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine. That they are infinite we will realize the day we admit to ourselves that imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring.” — Henry Miller

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” — Robert Frost

“What some people find in religion a writer may find in his craft … a kind of breaking through to glory.” — John Steinbeck

“Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Don’t wait.” — Daniel Quinn

4 thoughts on “1001 reasons for not writing

  1. I a laughing so loud, you should be able to hear my on Saltspring Island.
    First of all, the ‘afghan’ draped over you, I took to be a hound, and though, ‘hmmm SIlk doesn’t have a dog…” and then I remembered that rather quaint, early Americanism, perhaps more commonly used in the northeast, from whence you’ve just returned>

    I, too have been to the Breakers, on a trip to New England with my late Aunt, (we had a grand time and just the mention of it has brought back fond memories of her and that memorable trip).

    But what really made me laugh is the subject matter of your delightful post. Such wonderful quotes. And you must be prescient. I, too, decided to focus this week’s post, (which will appear tomorrow, God… er I mean Joe willing) on famous writers. But I’m not going to tell you what it is about, everyone will have to read it for themselves.

    I will say, I am somewhat concerned about your clairvoyance….. gee, I hope we’re not writing the same novel!

    • Thanks Paula. Dare I say great minds think alike? Or perhaps I should say clever minds know how to fill up a needed blog post with the words of others! BTW, this particular afghan is indeed the old fashioned crocheted squares type, which I made myself in an earlier life. I let out a guffaw (great word, no? and not used enough) when I tried to imagine an afghan dog draped on my lap – with a cat draped over the afghan.

  2. Love it Frank! The secret word is “book” and on some virtual stage set in the space-time continuum, I think the duck just dropped down from the ceiling with a $100 bill in its beak. If you have absolutely NO idea what I’m talking about, you’re probably a lot younger than I am, or you never watched the Groucho Marx show! Thanks for your comment.

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