In the introduction to In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, Annie Dillard gives no-nonsense advice to new writers, which includes this injunction: “When you are writing full-time (three to four hours a day), go in the room with the book every day, regardless of your feelings.”
Her introduction contains a lot of good advice, and I recommend reading it and the book in its entirety, but what really grabbed me about this statement was that Annie Dillard considers full-time writing to be three to four hours a day! Here I’ve been working on my book and sitting down for eight-hour stretches with my laptop and my brain, putting in a solid work day when Annie (a real writer) recommends half that. My first response was, What does she do with the rest of her day? I guess that’s not important. Like anyone, she probably has a day job, laundry, meals, relationships, social obligations, research, mail.
While examining my response to her statement, I’ve realized that I’ve been needlessly applying a corporate model to my writing work. Why do I need to put in an eight-hour day? Why should I treat myself as a slacker employee if I’d rather read a book or go to an art gallery? Why should I equate the stack of words I produce with success?
Simply put, it doesn’t work that way. Writing, for most people, is not a profitable business. I’ve received a grant to defray the costs of living while I write, but I am not being paid by the hour or the word. Like Robert Graves once said, “There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money either.” So, I’m trying to stifle my inner-Puritan and learn to write and enjoy living without a paycheck.
Heather K. Hummel
Sometimes, being a writer feels like I have a body covered in tattoos that are barely hidden by the limits of my clothes. When I dress to go to the college where I teach, there is a thin guise of conservatism and banality, but underneath are illustrations of my entire life philosophy—including the drunken and better-left-forgotten exegesis, in indelible ink no less. Aren’t all writers naked, but camouflaged?
I knew a boy in college that had a smiley face tattooed on his chest; someone somewhere probably recalls that I once wrote an ode to guacamole. “For posterity’s sake” always seemed like such a silly concept to me. As I get older, I can more about each sentence that I write, each image in every poem I make; writing has the power to reveal deep and hidden things, and those things can hurt or heal.
As I write now, it is a bit of a strip tease: those tattoos are being revealed, one shimmy or shake at a time. Paradoxically, my dance with writing is simultaneously more restrained and cautiously executed, and more filled with abandon and utter joy. This is a short life; I’d like it to be densely rich and true. If I pray about my endeavors, it is for that. Then, I sit down to work, and my fingers begin to tap a new rhythm.