Ideas and Words: A Letter on Writing

Ideas and Words: A Letter on Writing May 16, 2018
Title: Writing Desk
Dimensions: 46 x 45mm (1.8 x 1.8 inches)
Description: Small illustration scanned from the book Rodwell, G. F.: “South by East: Notes of Travel in Southern Europe” (1877). A bearded man sits writing at a mediæval writing desk; there are scrolls in the foreground, and a gargoyle’d trifoliate carving on his bench along with a small statue in the background indicate a monastic or other religious setting.
(Public Domain)

16 May 2018
The Edge of Elfland
Manchester, New Hampshire

Dearest Readers,

Anyone who still reads these letters regularly has likely noticed my relative absence. I’ve been in a bit of a malaise, not able to bring myself to actually write anything, or not much of anything. Which is unfortunate since white guys with ennui is so cliché. But there you are, even someone who considers themselves a little different, on the edge even (of Elfland perhaps) can be and often is a stereotype. What’s worse, this is not the first time I’ve written a letter like this. Whether it’s work, kids, sleepless nights (because of kids) or lack of ideas, I constantly find myself stuck, unable to write or immensely unhappy with anything I’ve written. And so, it’s time for the perennial return where I promise more content only to fail yet again.

But this makes me curious about the nature of writing. Why do the words come at certain moments and not others? Sometimes it is due to a lack of ideas. But that isn’t my problem now. I have plenty of ideas, not always for this blog, but still, I could be writing something and instead I have been writing nothing. As always, I think the problem for me comes back to habits and rhythms. I find one that works for a while and then give up. Or else my circumstances change making old habits no longer possible.

For instance, when I was working on my PhD and my first novel simultaneously, I was able to do so because I didn’t have any other job. I’d get up at 5, sometimes 4, write about 1250 words on each project and then go up to the university to read and edit. Then we had kids and that routine became untenable. We also moved back stateside and I no longer had a university I could walk to and work at. Instead, I finished my dissertation in my grandmother-in-law’s boiler room, in the winter, in New Hampshire (feel free to feel sorry for me here). 

As the kids got older, writing got a bit easier again. At first, I’d get up after my son Theodore’s 4 AM feeding and do some writing. Also, since I didn’t have a full-time job, I could write during their naps. Many a blog post was written, and a bowl of pipe tobacco smoked, during my boys’ nap. But then I got a full-time job at a High School. I went from having an almost infinite amount of time to write to almost none.

But even that isn’t entirely true. I have periods off during the day (like right now). There’s usually a bit of time before dinner too and I’m not always grading or prepping for class. No, the problem is clear, I need new habits, new rhythms. Of course, I’m finally realizing this and doing something about it when I only have a few weeks left before my school year is over. Then I’ll have to find new habits and rhythms for writing when my kids, wife, and I are all home for the Summer. But that problem can wait.

In the meantime, look for more letters from me as I try to remind myself that I love writing, that it is better for me than binge-watching How I Met Your Mother or Parks and Rec or The Office for the umpteenth time. OK, maybe the last two bear frequent re-watching, but still, I can spend less time with them or on Facebook or on my phone in general. I can enact these ideas. I can. I must. I don’t like who I am when I don’t.

David Russell Mosley

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