Habits and Techniques of Writers: Engagement
Deep engagement in the writing life.
Writers are never really turned “off.” Have you ever seen that cartoon that shows a man lying on a couch, staring into space, with his wife standing nearby, hands on hips, looking irritated, clearly having just asked the question, “What are you doing?” “I’m writing,” he says, with a kind of stunned, bewildered look on his face: and that person, if he is a real writer, is probably telling the truth.
Because the first step in any writing task is thinking. Or sometimes, more precisely, feeling, and feeling one’s way toward the right words to express our thoughts and feelings.
This can take place anywhere and anytime, including when we walk the dog, shower, sleep. Some of my best thinking is done in the shower, or when I am walking my dog. (I tell my clients I do not count this as billable time, what a bargain!)
In this sense writing is not so much an activity as it is a state of mind, one in which we are acutely alive both to the world around us, and to our unique and constantly changing reactions to that world.
Sometimes this can be unsettling for the people around us: are we really there, or are we in some internal world of our own? Often the answer is both. Writers can be simultaneously deeply engaged in the world around them, and at the same time at something of a remove from it.
There are many ways in which we can work our way toward the ultimate act of putting words on a page, or screen. Some of them may seem to have precious little to do with writing. And yet they may be absolutely essential to the process, bringing us bit by bit closer to the moment where thoughts, feelings and words collide, or coalesce, and the magic occurs.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She teaches literature courses in Paris and Hawaii for the Education Abroad program at Queens College, CUNY, and twice a year she offers Writing from the Heart workshops in a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France. In the spring of 2011, the first Writing from the Heart (in the Heart of Maryland) will be offered.