Sunday, September 14, 2014

Have You Been Wasting Precious Writing Time?


The Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers contains an interview with Louise Gluck. In the interview, entitled “Internal Tapestries,” Gluck speaks of her long-time love of mystery books. This interested me as I’m a big fan of true crime books. (Interesting that fans of one seem not to be fans of the other genre. Who can explain that?) Gluck’s love of mystery books was recently supplanted by her fascination with a newly acquired iPad.

Although she was initially resistant to the device, Gluck turned to it as it was the only way she could watch “Orange Is the New Black,” a TV show in which her niece plays a role. She then just kept on using the thing. It became her “bed buddy.” She admits to having quickly become an “addict.”

Then she says what might make us cringe a bit: “At the moment it has usurped the place of reading in my life. Part of me thinks this is dangerous; my own vocation will dissolve. Another part of me thinks this is exploratory, that if my vocation is so fragile or precarious it isn’t a vocation.”

I imagine that this resonated with many readers. It sure did with me. I routinely castigate myself for the amount of time I spend on the computer. And I’ve noticed in recent years that I’ve been paying hefty library fines on books which now seem to take me longer to get through than they did before I became addicted.

Woman Wasting Time
The interview raised for me the question of what constitutes wasting time? Is there, for a poet, anything that is truly a distraction? Or is it all grist for the mill? Gluck goes on to speak of a two-year period when she read nothing but garden catalogues. How embarrassing! Oh, not so fast to judge, please. At the end of those two years she wrote The Wild Iris, a book that earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

Gluck has come to believe that “there’s something my brain needs in such indulging,” and so she no longer resists or suffers from guilt. She knows that these side excursions, these diversions may very well lead to new writing and are necessary to her writer’s mind. The time she spends on the iPad “is just dream time, the way detective fiction is. It stills a certain kind of anxiety and at the same time engages the mind. As the mind is engaged and anxiety is suppressed, some imaginative work in some recessed portion of the being is getting done.”

Here’s what strikes me as good advice from Gluck: “Don’t prejudge your stimuli. Just trust where your attention goes.” Who knows what will lead where?

Gluck speaks also of a long period of not writing and suffering from the sense that she was losing words. Her sister advised her to write about that. Eventually this state of not writing became her newest book, Faithful and Virtuous, in which she explores the previously unexplored territory of her wordlessness.

Gluck concludes that when she thought she hadn’t been working she had indeed been working. Kind of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? And the best part is that it’s true. I have come to regard my not infrequent fallow periods as times of hunting and gathering, though I hope to soon emerge from the current such period and start again showing up at the desk. What will I bring with me?

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