In what feels like a bit of a fallow writing period I gripped tightly to Irina Dumitrescu's brilliant reflections on productivity posted recently on her excellent Substack. The piece wonders about the need to write everyday, at least in the sense that we might think of writing. One idea covered in the piece is that when we think of writing we should include thinking-time as well as the putting of words on a page:
‘This is how I realised: it’s not necessary to write every day, but it is a good idea to think every day. Sometimes, thinking hard about a project can save a lot of effort in pointless composition.’
It’s easy to feel that any space should be filled with typing. The invisibility of thinking contrasts with the visibility of the word count. Dumitrescu reflects on the need for some space for thought and reflection. Being constantly industrious squeezes out that type of pondering. Thinking might occur as words accumulate, but sometimes more space is needed to allow the ideas to form.
Dumitrescu gently pushes against more oppressive notions of productivity. This also brought to mind Oli Mould's book Against Creativity. The problem with just focusing on the number of words written each day is that it doesn’t allow for that sort of reflection - making the formation of the final work more difficult. Including thinking time within writing, and expecting to have days when the number of words isn’t that great is, Dumitrescu notes, important for the writer and the writing. We often think of writing in quite disembodied terms, but it is deeply corporeal. Which is where Dumitrescu's piece implicitly takes us:
‘And here is the hardest part: sometimes the creative process requires neither writing nor thinking, but rest. A break. A distraction.’
A gap for rest can perhaps help the writing, as can leaving it behind to focus elsewhere. I’ve found that inspiration can be stumbled upo in places we may not be expecting. Plus, it would seem that the constant push for words can be counterproductive anyway. In the piece below Hattie Crisell discusses how a focus on wordcount can draw our attention and actually hinder progress.
Talking about his approach to writing, Geoff Dyer starts the interview below by saying that he has periods when he doesn’t write much. These gaps happen, he points out, when he doesn’t feel he has anything to say. Dyer appears to be very relaxed with this. It would seem that he has factored the need for thinking and reflection into his writing practice, it’s part of the cycles of creativity. It's like he accepts that some thinking time is needed whilst a new enthusiasm comes along to spark the writing. He waits for something to say.
In a different podcast interview I’ve heard Dyer saying that he always needs a gap between books, when one is written he can’t move immediately to the next. He claims to have tried to step straight into a new project, whilst never managing to move on immediately. It would seem that gaps are not a hinderance to writing, they are not a sign of a lack of output, they are part of the tidal nature of creativity. Gaps between projects are important but so too are gaps during the writing.
The question then is how to accept those inevitable gaps. Maybe another way to think of this is to reflect on how to do things that ease those gaps into writing practice. One option might be to trick ourselves into making space for writing gaps - doing something that still feels like it is advancing the writing is perhaps one way to do this.
By way of filling a gap I’ve been listening to Rebecca Solnit reading her own book Orwell's Roses. Solnit’s book has that kind of inspirational property that can sometimes be found in creative works. The prose and voice are gentle but pointed, drawing out themes and linking them together. Where Dylan Riley’s new book Microverses, as the name suggests, comes in 104 small bits of text Solnit's book is woven around the relations between a writer’s life and plants. If Solnit’s text navigates some tangled yet expertly cultivated roots, Riley's short excerpts are leaves that blow in the wind. Riley explains that his book was written in a notepad as the thoughts occurred - he then transferred them to the book in almost unaltered form. A method for writing in those gaps perhaps.
If I asked, I hope, I’m sure in fact, that Irina Dumitrescu would allow me to include listening to Solnit's audiobook within my writing time. Especially as Solnit demonstrates such an exemplary manner of communication. And the audiobook seems to allow the concentration to wander too. I may not end up quoting or citing the book, yet its style and entangled content have got me thinking about form, focus and connectivity. I may not have come away from it with something in particular to say, but this writing gap, and the presence of Solnit’s voice within it, has helped me to think about how things might be said. Time for a gap…