People often ask me, “When do you write?” I know they want to know what time of day am I able to carve out hours at a computer to type up my column or blog post. They want to know if I wake up before the kids do, or stay up late past their bedtime (and mine) to crank out my latest literary project. The thing is, there is so much more to my creativity than the time my fingers tap-tap-tap on the keyboard. And a large chunk of that creative dance is nowhere near my laptop.
As a writer, I am constantly tango-ing between two worlds: that which is around me, engaging my senses, forming my experiences, filling my well, and that which is within me, a force I can’t always harness, that ebbs and flows, that enraptures me so that I can’t pay attention to the rest of my reality in that moment – not until I can spit out the words on something. Anything. My notebook in my purse, my laptop if it’s handy, my journal or the stack of looseleaf by my bed.
The external world offers me stimulation and input. My internal world offers me quiet and space in which that input can be processed. Some things are discarded there and some things jump out at me and beg to be mulled over, stretched and kneaded like dough, until enough material comes together to form something worth digesting.
It sounds like a long and tedious process but it isn’t really because I’m not always aware something is happening.
I can have my hands firmly planted in the soil of my garden, pulling weeds, pruning back the rose bush, wondering why I didn’t contain the black-eyed Susans as I remind them I’m the boss of my flower bed…and I have no idea that I am working something out in my head, until Creativity offers me a phrase or a topic worth cultivating. I’m harvesting cherry tomatoes and ideas at the same time, and I’m not working alone. There’s something else besides the buzz of the bumblebees that reminds me that everything, including my words, come from elsewhere.
The computer, or the pen and paper, are my utensils. ‘When I write’ is not something I can appoint to the time I spend with those utensils.
When people say about themselves, “I’m not creative,” there are a million rebuttals that want to burst out of my being. But the greatest wound is when I hear people say they don’t have time to be creative. There’s no such thing as ‘time’ when it comes to engaging with Creativity. Time is a material concept. Creativity is not.
Yes, you need physical time and space to type out words or paint a picture or move your body in dance. But to engage with your Creativity, you need to view things as if they are there for you to capture. In the garden. On the street. In someone’s face. Overheard in the lineup at the bank. Emotions you witness or experience. Conversations you have with loved ones and strangers. The things that crawl in front of you when you push back the lavender. The words that crawl out of pages you read and that settle in your heart. See them, hear them, feel them.
Then later, when you have that physical time and space – at the edges of your day, as author Toni Morrison suggests – pin those things down on whatever canvas you are drawn to.
When do I write? Throughout it all.