On Taking Your Time

I believe in a meditative writing practice. By meditative I mean slowing things down. We live in a fast paced world, but the world has always been fast, just in different ways. If there is time to be taken, others will take it from you. When I was teaching my med students they articulated this very clearly. They were arguing over the length of an assignment, and finally one said, “Professor Chase, if we don’t fight for our time, who will?”

Writers need to fight for their time in every sense of the word. If it isn’t family its work or the weather or mental state or any number of things out there that struggle to take you away from your passion. At the same time, if as a writer you haven’t learned to listen and see the world, it is tougher to write of it. It’s easy enough to hear things, we’re bombarded with voices telling us what do buy, who to be, etc, but what about truly listening to what’s out there, not all that surface noise?

An assignment I’ve given in the past is to choose a day off, grab a notebook and pen, and take the entire route of a local bus. Take notes on anything that seems of interest to you. Watch what’s going on around you. Listen in on conversations and truly hear what people talk about.   Ditch the iPod and cell phone, but don’t be afraid to engage with others who sit next to you. Writers aren’t magical gods outside of humanity, just observing and playing God with language–we’re part of it. We hold up mirrors to the world and, even scarier, to ourselves. If we can’t see who we are, how are we expected to see others?

Don’t be afraid of not writing full sentences, either, when taking your notes. Simple notes such as “cat sitting on fence above ‘beware of dog sign'” or “man with chainsaw” are enough to jog your memory later. You know you and what information needs to go down.

So here’s my challenge: take the bus. Just for one day. Let it loop around. Tell me what notes you take and conversations you had, if any. Slow down and enjoy being a writer.

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