How We Write

Writing is physical.

Writing is athletic.

Writing requires the same discipline of a dedicated athlete in pursuit of peak performance.

I note this, not to be repetitive, but as a corollary to my series on Little League and the trajectory of sports in life for me. These things are one and the same: the first story I had accepted for publication was a baseball story (Guts, Atticus Review, August 2012).

In describing discipline and dedication to the craft, I don’t say that writing is precious. Writers can’t afford to be precious about what they do. The where and the when and the how is often compromising and uncomfortable.

It happens at all hours and in all places.

It happens at the end of the day standing on cramped trains rocking through underground tunnels.

It happens at the back of the plane rubbing elbows with fellow passengers and sniffing lavatory odors from behind.

It happens in the small hours under dim lights at a cost to the mind’s need for processing and restoration.

I’ve told myself that writing can be a substitute for this processing and restoration, even if science tells me it is not. Sleep is sleep. And as every writer knows, writing is not sleeping.

But writing can be like sleeping. Writers reach peak performance when their output mimics dreaming.

For John Gardner, fiction writers do their job best when they put their readers in the dream. To create and maintain this condition for the reader, writers themselves need to enter the dream state:

In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night…

We write not because we’ve had enough sleep but because we’ve got a dream to share and a regimen to keep. Just like athletes.




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