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Writin’

October 7, 2010
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Sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. I’ve been in one of those periods the last few days. Actually, the problem is more precise than that—I don’t feel like writing what I should be writing. I could probably get interested in writing something about Slinky, the caped and masked, six-lined racerunner superhero rescuing a demur earless lizard from certain death as she rounds a soapweed root and comes face-to-face with a smiling western hog-nosed snake. But I don’t get a paycheck for such diversionary writing.

Often times this lack of inspiration and desire comes after burrowing down deep for three or four days, not talking to people, not answering the phone, not caring who is ringing the front door bell, hunkering down to write an article that has many sources—old interviews, old outdoor magazines, old game commission annual reports to the governor, field notes, that sort of thing; and you need to get all the information floating around in your head when you start to write so you can immediately pluck up what you need precisely when you need it. No, I was never one for outlines. I always count on the last sentence of a paragraph suggesting the first sentence of the next paragraph and I just keep going that way until I’m at the end. Once I start on something like that I stay with it until I have a first draft done. The first draft might be crude but it has the information I want in something of a plausible order. That sort of drains me, and if I can I don’t look at what I have written for several days, longer if possible, and then I come back to it not being sick-and-tired of it, look at it with a more objective eye.

There is other work I can do when I don’t feel like writing, unless I’ve let something slide right up to the deadline and it’s time to layout the article. I can edit and edit and edit a pretty-much-finished piece to death—finding a slightly more precise word here and there or a “to” that should have been a “too,” moving a sentence from near the end of a paragraph closer to the front of a paragraph, or the most radical of all, deleting a whole sentence because it really isn’t necessary. Once, I sort of recall, deleting an entire paragraph, but that might have only happened in a nightmare. You get attached to your words once they are on the screen, and even more once you see them on paper. Unfortunately, once they are in print, out there for the world to see, you often wish you’d thrown more away.

And there are other things to do when I don’t feel like writing that still justifies getting a paycheck, like culling and labeling photographs, going back through half-a-dozen tablets on my desk and returning phone calls I should have returned two month ago, or looking for a long-lost file. In my case, as most of my writing career predated computers, the word “file” still means one of those paper file holders of varying capacities (I really like the dark brown accordion files as they hold a lot, which convinces me I’ve got a lot of information on that file’s subject) that sit upright in a file drawer. Most of the time such files are logically labeled, like “Dismal River” or “black-necked stilts,” and in drawers just as logically labeled, “Sandhills Rivers” and “shorebirds.” But files have a way of not finding their way back home. Some I even suspect runaway from home. I can see the image, it would be a cartoon, think of the animated Post-it notes commercials—a manila folder on which someone intent on tormenting me has drawn a smiling mouth, widespread eyes, and little stick arms holding a broom stick over its shoulder on the end of which is tied a red bandana filled with a change of underwear, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a rabbit’s foot charm. On my x-rated days the smiling folder is even gesturing at me with one of its five little stick fingers.

 Back when I logged more days in the field I didn’t seem to have this not-feeling-like-writing problem as often, as field time and holing-up-to-write time sort of alternated. If I planned it right I’d be in the field the nicest months of the year, during the spring and autumn, and hunkered down when it was either hot as Hades or colder than well-digger’s, well, if you are old enough you know about well-digger’s…..

Sometimes writing just happens. All your stars are aligned that day. It is a joy. No matter how you arrange the words, sentences, and paragraphs it seems to work. The flips side is the sort of writing that you can force even if don’t feel like writing that day, just like you can mow your yard when you really don’t want to even pull the starter cord on your lawnmower, when staking out a dozen dwarf goats seems like a better idea.

I don’t know how it is for other writers, but those in the office here must have it about the same. There are days Kurrus is everywhere, like a whirling dervish spinning from office to office on this mission and that mission; and there are days he is in the office—I know because I saw his mud-caked pickup in the parking lot, the one with the deer cart in the back and a pair of wet hiking boots on top it drying in the sun—but his office door is closed all day. And there are days I see Fowler’s pickup in the parking lot, one of several in the game commission parking lot with a dog carrier in the box, and maybe two dozen Canada goose shell decoys, but the only time I see him all day is if we cross paths in the men’s room; and usually he is washing the mold out of his coffee pot because he didn’t wash it before leaving town for a week. I know where he’s at—down the hall two doors, buried in the far end of his dark cave, hiding behind his piles of “stuff” and his mounted elk head on the wall, writing. Those are the days you leave writers alone. Sometimes, even when their doors are closed, I can’t resist sticking my head in and asking—“What you doing?” Fowler, he’s a born-Nebraskan and so hearing his reply never amuses me as much as what I typically get from Kurrus. If he’s having a good day, it’s always the same, one word in that soothingly-slow, Tennessee twang: “Writin’.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris Helzer permalink
    October 7, 2010 4:01 pm

    Farrar just wrote a whole post on the subject of not wanting to write. Pure Genius!

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