The busier my life becomes, the harder it becomes to make time for writing and, paradoxically, the easier it becomes to write. What I mean by this is that by the time I get to my weekly writing session, I come armed with half-sentences and quarter formed ideas and stories. I have a handful of scrap papers and inside-of-book-jacket scribbles that says things like “my brain doesn’t bend that way,” and “On our fifth date, he confessed he was my brother.” The two or three hours a week I get to write during the semester has me always starving for more time, and when I get it I glut.
One of the great anxieties of the writing field is the pressure to “produce,” “to be working.” This pressure can mount to a point that it takes the joy out of writing, cramps creativity, and produce the culturally-toted cliché of the writing professor with writer’s block. Recently I had the joy of reading back through some exercises and short pieces I wrote when I didn’t feel this pressure. There is a whimsy to this work that makes some of it what I would consider strong work, even if these snippets are frayed and at times less than coherent. I clearly felt more freedom to waste writing time, and this is one of the most important and underrated mechanisms of creative writing: time to waste. My teachers knew this, and many assigned writing exercises that were designed to evoke the weirdest whimsies from our depths, to have us breaking rules and finding that sense of freedom.
I hope that my writing assignments free my students in the same way, that either because of or in spite of me my students look back at their time writing in academia and think that it was also, and again paradoxically, a time they transcended boundaries.
When you are starting out, failure is at every step, at every corner. You become so used to it, that when you go to work you can’t help but think, what’s a little more failure? I don’t want to go back to the time when I had yet to have a piece accepted for publication, and my constant question was “Am I good enough? Will I ever be good enough?” But I wouldn’t mind a whole afternoon writing a half a story only to get bored with it, abandon it, and start again the next day.
Time, no matter how it’s used it, is perhaps a writer’s most essential tool. It is how books are made. And it is why it is so important that we continue to support organizations that fund time for writers and artists, such the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. These organizations support serious artists and writers so that they can produce this work. And while wasting time might be good for the creative brain, this is not wasted time.
This is time glutted on by writers and artists starving for it, who are deeply committed to the magnificent thing they will make for us during this time, the thing that will remain. The book that future generations can use to look back and see that this what civilization as we knew it looked like, can know that for all our faults we were people who supported things beautiful and strange because we knew art was what made us human.