Writing is such a paradoxical exercise. It can be easy or hard, depending on the day. Often, the hardships are the self-imposed distractions that we writers allow to disrupt our flow. For instance, just today I used most of my scheduled writing time paying bills, cleaning a table of mail that’s been collecting for weeks, shredding documents that I don’t need to keep but don’t want to place out on the curb with the recycling. I finally sat down to write.
Tap. Tap. Tap. A noise came from the other room. I set my laptop aside, went into the kitchen where the noise seemed to be coming from and stood to listen. Nothing. I turned to go when the tapping sounded again. It seemed to come from the wall with the window. A few weeks before I’d gone without a phone for several days, just to find out that a rodent had eaten through the wires on the outside of the house. I walked towards the wall and peered through the glass. As far as I could see, there was nothing out there; but the noise persisted.
I turned to the dog. "You stay here. You can’t come with me," for I knew that if there was anyone or anything along the outside of the house, she’d surely take off in pursuit. So alone, I walked out the door, tiptoed down the porch steps and peeked around the corner of the house. Still nothing.
Barefoot, I walked up my neighbor’s driveway, inspecting the wire that ran along the side of my house until I reached the backyard gate, surveyed the swing and the pond and the overgrown hostas, hollyhocks and clematis on the other side, and I found nothing out of the ordinary.
The dog sat patiently waiting for me inside the front door, unhappy that I’d chosen to venture out on my own. I sat back down with my laptop. She curled up at my feet. Tap. Tap. Tap.
More purposely this time, I charged out the front door, stood and listened for a moment and heard the tapping from the other side of the house this time. I looked towards my other neighbor’s house and from under the eaves where the downspout attached to the gutter, I saw the flapping of black and white striped wings that I recognized and had not seen yet this year. As they flapped, I heard them tap, tap, tap against the aluminum siding.
I went back in the house and grabbed my camera, hoping for a picture of the downy woodpecker that was pecking away at the siding. As I reached the front yard, he moved from his spot under the eave to where the roof sloped down to the top of the portico. I stepped from under the Japanese yew to get a better shot and he flapped his wings, landing at the apex of the house’s roof and out of reach of my camera’s lens. One step further and he disappeared over the house.
I told my daughter Lizabet my story, confessing to my avoidance of writing. Also a writer, her outlook was different. She said that diversions aren’t necessarily bad. You might be thinking about your writing, or you might become inspired by something unexpected.
This made me think about my avoidance differently. Like most writers, I am an observer. The act of observing is a part of my writing process. I don’t necessarily consciously observe; it’s just a part of my makeup. So as I’m doing simple daily activities, I’m subtly gathering characters, dialogue, scenes and plots. I consider these details. Sometimes I think about what I am going to write for weeks before I ever put words to paper.
I started writing a short story about a month ago or so. I’d seen a man on a corner, holding a sign with Will Work for Food written on it. My curiosity about the man became an obsession over the weeks that followed and I pondered his possible story, mentally made contact with the man and became a character in his life. I had five strong pages when I quit writing. Sitting here today, I still have just five pages.
I complained to a friend of mine about feeling like I was going nowhere with my short story. She used the metaphor of baking bread. She said, "Let the idea rise. Firm it up in your head. Your instincts will tell you when it’s ready to handle. When that happens, nothing will keep your hands off it." So when there’s more pleasure than dread, I will know that I’m ready to write my story.
In the meantime, I will mull it over, as I make the bed, drive to work or talk to the dog. And if I take a few moments out for bird watching, that’s okay. It’s not writing interruptus. It’s all a part of the process.