How To Not Write

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

1. Wake up early, before your alarm clock. Tell yourself it’s too early and go back to sleep.

2. Stretch, breathe deeply, then pick up your phone and play Candy Crush Saga for 32 minutes. Check off “meditation” in your habit tracker app because the game has become so easy for you, it’s practically like meditating.

3. Pull up a blank screen on your laptop and begin typing. Oh wait, not that line. Think of something else, something better. Realize you haven’t had your coffee yet. Go grind beans.

4. Pat yourself on the back for doing some “thinking work” as you enjoy your coffee while sitting in the backyard. Of course, the best writers do most of their work before they even commit a word to the page. Ann Patchett, for one, says she spends weeks, sometimes months, working out a story in her head before she starts typing it out.

Congratulate yourself for being so industrious and using your time wisely. Like a real professional.

5. Make sure the dishes are clean and put away;w6 the laundry is folded and tucked into drawers; the dog has been walked; your inbox is under control; your mom received the card you sent last week; the dentist knows you want to come in early; and the weather report hasn’t changed since the last time you looked … 45 minutes ago.

6. Remember that Stuart Dybek once talked about keeping cards in his back pocket, so if he was walking down the street and had a good thought or a new idea, he could capture it then and there.

Decide you will walk to Staples to purchase notecards. Check the weather report before you go.

7. Look up the word Pomodoro and wonder why all those timer apps named themselves after a tomato. Research every timer app in the app store. Decide you don’t really need it.

8. Realize you have nothing to write about. Google “writing prompt” and prepare to feel creative. Spend an hour spinning inside the internet before you realize you’ve spent 20 minutes watching a video interview with Carol Kaye, a jazz guitarist you wonder why you’ve never heard of. Get obsessed with “chordal notes.”

9. Recall that the godmother of getting started, Natalie Goldberg, says to make lists. So you get a clean sheet of paper, the fountain pen you haven’t used in months, and sit down to make your list of stories you want to tell.

The ink in the fountain pen has dried out. Spend five minutes rinsing the nib in the sink.

10. Use a crappy ballpoint pen to make your list. Hey, making the list is easy. You’ve got 15 ideas before you know it. Read them over several times before realizing that none of them are very interesting.

11. Read Goldberg’s directions further and see that she now says to write a list of stories you don’t want to tell. Ponder the significance of this. Make an afternoon snack while you are working (remember, thinking counts). After you check the news, and the weather, go back to the pen and paper.

12. This list of stories not to tell is hard. These are the tough memories, the ones you’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget. These are the conversations you’ve had with partners just before you broke up, and when you think about them, you realize they all sounded the same. These are the secrets in your family that never quite bubble to the surface, but seem to hover over every holiday meal. These are the crazy thoughts that surprise you and scare you.

These are the stories you will write. Tomorrow.

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