Writing as Devotional Act

I just read a wonderful op-ed piece about writing that was completely inspiring for me. I blog a lot about books, but not so often about the craft that goes into creating books, and I wanted to take a minute to appreciate the creativity and devotion that goes into writing. The article, published on Dec. 1 in the New York Times by Silas House, is accessible in its entirety here, but I’ll share a few of my favorite excerpts here on this blog. 

We are a people who are forever moving, who do not have enough hours in the day, but while we are trying our best to be parents and partners, employees and caregivers, we must also remain writers.

There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.

This way of being must be something that we have to turn off instead of actively turn on. It must be the way we live our lives.

Beautiful, isn’t it? I often feel that writing is something meditative, something that brings peace and calm into a hectic and unpredictable life. After all, isn’t that why we perpetuate the cliche of sitting at coffee shops with our tea or espresso close at hand, our headphones  plugged in, hunched over our laptops? We’re building ourselves an island of calm so that we can immerse ourselves in our world. But we forget that once we’ve built that world (or started building it, think of those expansive scenes in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” where they craft dreamworlds) we can delve into it at any time. Listening to the radio on your way to work? Think about what your characters would listen to, or what kind of music they would be exposed to on a regular basis. Getting dressed in the morning? What do your characters wear every day? Are those clothes comfortable, uncomfortable, fashionable, practical, or ragged? Taking a half hour to grab lunch? Think about what the food tastes like in your imaginary world, or what your characters would pick off the menu at your drive-thru, or where they would choose to go eat for lunch. 

Writers have been meeting at the Appalachian Writers Workshop for 35 years, and in that time the gathering has produced many award-winning, best-selling authors. One of its most beloved centerpieces, until his death in 2001, was James Still, a novelist and poet known for his keen insights into the natural world. Shortly before he died I met him.

I was a young, naïve, foolish writer who was searching for my way. I swallowed hard and asked him if he had any advice on how to be a better writer. He didn’t answer for a long minute, gazing off at the hills as if ignoring me.

But then he spoke, and I realized that he had taken that moment for quiet thought. “Discover something new every day,” he said.

Discover something new every day. Returning to the idea of writing as a devotion or meditation, try to find something beautiful or inspiring, or tragic and wrong, and bring those ideas to bear in your work. Let your writing be a reflection of who you are, because those are the works that stand the test of time and come back to haunt and inspire their own readers in generations to come. 

What inspires you to write? What are your favorite words of wisdom for writing? How does the world around you change your writing?