What I Talk About When I Talk About Not Writing

Just came home with a bushy cherry tomato plant that I hope I won’t kill and my first pint of Quebec strawberries. It’s summertime and my wintertime discipline is melting slowly away, kind of like the pile of snow sitting in Turcot Yard. My preoccupations have been more of the practical kind: trying to find a place to live in the fall, eating fresh produce, etc, etc.

All signs point towards writing, though. I was in Calgary over the weekend (for a fellow writer and dear friend’s wedding) and was struck by the beauty and hugeness of a big, blue prairie sky. It’s the kind of majestic thing that makes you feel all reflective and, for lack of something less cheesy, “infinite”. I was describing the feeling to a friend of mine and, not quite getting the feeling she said, “that must be really helpful for writing.” Huh. I was sort of thinking that it was better for living, but sure, writing too.

One of my favourite things about taking planes is going to the airport bookstore and buying an issue of The New Yorker. When it’s an especially good issue I take it as a good omen for the trip. The issue I read didn’t let me down at all: summer fiction issue! Including fun things like the first unreleased Nabokov short story (honestly? I didn’t love it), the most depressing story ever by Annie Proulx (dead babies, abandoned children, loss of limbs via bombs, massive brain damage… and more!), and, the most fascinating piece for me, Haruki Murukami discussing running and writing. Murukami will soon release “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running“, a memoir about running and starting a jazz club and writing books. The essay in the New Yorker concentrates on his early days, when he just started taking up running and becoming a novelist. He breaks down each process into satisfying, manageable pieces. He sits down and writes and writes. He puts on running shoes and runs and runs. Eventually the writing becomes a novel and the running becomes a marathon. It’s so simple! Thank you, Haruki.

This week I also read Zadie Smith’s lecture in the latest issue of The Believer about the craft of writing. I am such a sucker for these “how to do what I do” essays, and hers is funny and non-pretentious and helpful. The biggest piece of advice she gives (which she acknowledges she never follows and doesn’t believe anyone else actually will) is to put your writing away when you’re done. Hide the manuscript in a drawer for a few months, and then pull it out for editing. The distance will make you a better, more objective editor. Very good advice, but very hard to follow, although perhaps I can take my own writing dry spell as a good excuse to gain some of that distance from the writing I started when it was a little colder.