The Art of Showing Up

If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year. To be sure all day and every day you are waiting around to write that half hour a day.

– Gertrude Stein

I’ve struggled this entire week to feel inspired. Maybe it wasn’t that I was uninspired, but unmotivated. Who knows. Either way, I’ve struggled to write. 

Actually, I don’t think I even tried to write. I just knew it would be hard so didn’t bother to face the failure by trying.

I turned on my computer out of habit but quickly occupied myself looking at interior design websites, photos of well organised offices, and watching youtube videos. I avoided reading. Even that seemed to require too much mental focus.

I exercised one morning to try and cultivate some energy but that exhausted me for the whole day so I didn’t bother trying that again.

Somehow today, because the sun was shining for the first time in days and I couldn’t excuse missing it by spending yet another day indoors, I managed to walk to the library. Usually I work on ideas as I walk, but today I noticed how devoid of ideas I was and spent the whole walk wondering what it was I was actually going to do once I reached the library. Turn around and walk straight back home again, I guess.

Uncomfortable just sitting with a blank page, I grabbed a copy of Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How great minds make time, find inspiration, and get to work. I was hoping to find a magic routine, one infallible in summoning inspiration. I wasn’t struck so much by the rituals of these talents, but that they all alluded to have the same struggle.

Most had a comment to make about good days and bad, easy fast writing, and hard slow writing. I read about Gertrude Stein and was astounded to discover that she only wrote for half an hour a day. As she says though, half an hour soon adds up to a lot of writing.

I realised that I’ve been pushing myself too hard, hence the burn out this week. I expect myself to just emerge from years of darkness and sit and labour away for eight hours a day, every day. And every minute I sit there with nothing to write, I lash myself in punishment for failing.

But I don’t need to write in one continuous stream for eight hours straight. In fact, the more I read, the more I realise that’s not really how it works anyway and that these famous writers’ habits are in many ways quite similar to mine.

What differs is their discipline, their willingness to sit there and wait. They show up. It reminded me of a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert I’d seen years ago about the ‘elusive creative genius’ as she calls it.

Here’s the talk:

So I decided to write for half an hour today. This is what I came up with. It’s not genius, it’s not even well written. But it is a piece of writing, and I was the one who wrote it.

So, same time tomorrow?

[Feature image:]

One thought on “The Art of Showing Up

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