The Slow Quiet of Creation

I write for a few hours when I wake up on Saturday mornings. I write in between shifts at work. I write before I go to sleep (which usually makes me too hyper to go to sleep). I write on vacations. I write before weddings and after funerals. I write in my tent on camping trips up to the mountains. I write on the balconies of hotel rooms. I write in the front seat of my parked car. I write in my local library.

I write novels on my computer and phone. I write poems in black journals that I bought from Five Below. I write random thoughts on yellow sticky notes. I think about writing on long rides home.

If I don’t write every day, I feel unsatisfied. There is a building up of energy that needs to be released. If I can’t express myself, where will that energy go? 

When the stream is dammed up and can’t flow, the water will lose its vitality. It will stagnate. Otherwise the pressure will build, build, build, until the dam is broken.

I scrutinize the same sentence forty-seven times only to reject it. I tinker with one paragraph for an hour and then take a break from it. Three weeks later, it looks clunky again. I stare at lines of text until the letters blur together in the white spaces. 

I figure out what I want to say by cutting out all the nonsense. Then only the essential message is left. 

There are rejected novels within me. There are half-finished plays in the trash. There are poems that I’ve revised so many times that they’re like chewed up food. Countless pages have been abandoned and forgotten. 

Many of my stories stiffened into pale corpses after I tried to give them life. Some stumbled a few feet before falling, while others turned into monsters that had to be poked repeatedly with a pitchfork.

For the past seven years, I have been working on the same novel. I hope to publish it when it is ready, even though no writing is ever ready. There will eventually be a compromise between me and my work. Rather than revising the same piece forever, after a long enough time, I have to let it go.

If I only wanted money or fame, I would have tried an easier challenge than writing books. For those of us who are addicted to playing the slot machine of the internet, working steadily on the same task for years is a form of insanity. There are so many entertainment technologies around to consume our time instead. They are made to distract us, to get our attention, with a constant intrusion of stimuli. 

Despite all the noise around me, I’m still absorbed with my craft. For years and years, I have come back to the page. My joy comes from the writing itself. I prefer the slow quiet of creation. 

For hours every day, I manipulate imaginary worlds. I don’t discuss these worlds with anyone. They are sacred and intimate. If I died, no one would know they existed.

Whether I’ve been working on a new piece or the same damn novel for years, my characters are transforming, becoming more with every draft.

Stories bubble up from deep in my unconscious mind. They surface from dreams and childhood memories, experiences and hidden emotions. Everything influences everything else like the beads in Indra’s net.

I write to learn who my characters are and discover myself through their struggles. Every villain is me. Every hero is me. Their meanings are everything I am becoming. I can’t control them after they reach a certain threshold in their existence. They show me where I need to go, but only if I listen closely enough.

I’m a writer who will never make enough money to buy a house through my writing. I doubt I will ever win a prestigious award or go on a talk show. For every Stephen King on the top ten lists, there are millions of writers like me. 

Besides a couple of comments, none of my friends are going to cheer me on. My family will never urge me to quit my profession so I can write about circus performers or zombies or cage fighters or whatever interests me. 

Every morning, I have to make the decision to sit down and write, even when I’m exhausted from a ten hour shift or want to laze around on the couch instead. If I don’t, nobody is going to care about whether I write except for myself. Some people may even smirk if I stop trying.

There are many of us who create out of compulsion or stubbornness or narcissism. Because we have chosen this craft, our free time has been sacrificed. Every day, we have decided to distance ourselves from the people closest to us so that we can write. 

We’ve surrendered ourselves to make something meaningful. Sometimes our work is beautiful too. Most of the time, however, we learn about writing through our failures. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a group of high school students at Xavier:

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

For us writers, our stories may never go anywhere. Most of the time, they don’t. But when the world is busy, we dwell in solitude. We stack bricks on top of each other to build a house that may collapse.

To non-writers, our lives may seem like a boring routine. Every day, we have to go away to think. We write what we think and fix what we write.

I write because I need to write. The process of writing is the purpose, whether in my first or fifteenth draft. It is a spontaneous joy and a calculation. Clarity is ordered out of chaos. 

When I’m done with a piece, I’m excited for a short period of time. But after that high fades, I lose not just what I wrote, but the bond that holds me to it. 

Every end of a creation is an end in myself. When I sense that absence, I move on. I gaze at the blank page and begin again. There are possibilities there. Another beginning in the unknown.


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