At writer's group yesterday I mentioned that I hadn't written anything last week. It was so tough that for the first time in nineteen weeks I didn't publish a newsletter. "I just couldn't write anything," I said. "Not even your Morning Pages?" Lauren asked. "Well," I said, "of course I did those." David gently mocked me: "So you wrote twenty-something pages, but didn't write anything."
He's wrong and right here.
There is a difference between writing and writing. It's possible for me to write twenty-something pages but not write anything at all. Including what I typed, I probably wrote 10,000 words last week, but I still claim, without irony, that I didn't write anything at all.
Doing Morning Pages is a way to stay in the rhythm of writing. So too is time in my notebook filling pages, running my pen dry. Work at my laptop is the same. I keep myself in the act of writing though I'm not producing any writing.
I suppose I should articulate the difference.
The first writing is forming letters, words, paragraphs on the page or screen. It is the art of practice, like taking jump shots in the driveway after dinner. There's no score, no audience, no opposing team. It's just jump shots. Writing is like that. I did my usual amount of that kind of writing last week.
Writing is done with intent to go beyond the narrow confines of my mind. It is reaching out and risking rejection. Writing is done to share with an audience out in the world.
Even with the intent, not all attempts at writing work. There are writers who claim writer's block when it's not working. Others claim writer's block keeps them even from the rhythm writing. This is where I call bullshit. Maybe not on other writers, but on myself. I can always write no matter how long it has been since I've done any writing. I can keep the rhythm going. My next jump shot isn't dependent on the outcome of the previous jump shot. Just keep writing.
Right now I'm writing and writing. I'm keeping up the rhythm with intent. I can't know for sure what kind of writing I'm doing until I finish. Writing with intent is no guarantee, but it sure as hell makes writing more likely.
Either way is good. Sure, writing is more satisfying, especially when it brings acclaim, but writing, the desperate maintenance of rhythm might be more noble. It's the act of kindling a flame when everything is damp and the process seems hopeless. The product of that kind of writing, kept in a drawer forever or maybe just in memory, becomes a touchstone, a comfort. Often that is just what I need when I am struggling as an ordinary writer but still dreaming of becoming a writer.