“How to Write a Lot” (Even though you won’t) pt. 3

I just reread the first two parts of this continuing post, and boy, do I feel wordy. That’s alright. I’m only using this blog to work through ideas, not to state them succinctly. Summary, then? Okay: Any goal that takes consistency, patience, hard work, and faith requires a daily decision. But it’s not just a decision to DO, but a decision to WANT to do. There will be no problem with the doing, once you want to. And that wanting has to come from emotional work, not the logic.

But my last two posts were about saving money and quitting smoking–both activities defined by not doing–and I ended my last post wondering if these same principles might be applied to work in the active sense, to production. I have in mind my goals for these blogs. Actually, I’ll get to what those are a bit later. The bottom line is that I think being a writer means writing everyday. But like the decision to spend less and not smoke, it takes discipline.

But I also suspect that becoming a practicing writer requires a certain perspective about what exactly writing is. Some parts of the definition are easy. Words on a page/screen representing some movement toward an organization and expression of thought. But there’s more to it than that. It’s never worked for me to just sit down and write. Nothing to write about. No content to work with. And then there’s the endless cups of coffee required for production. And research online. And magazine reading. So when I’m doing these things, am I writing? I guess I can just decide how I want to answer that question. But first, I want to think back to something I learned as a potter. It has to do with understanding the context of an activity, and breaking down any divisions between the activity and the context. Here’s how I came to understand the process of making a simple coffee mug.


Several years ago, I took a job working for a potter in Colorado. I already had some experience working with clay, so I started hand building some pieces for him. What I really wanted to do was to sit at the wheel and practice my centering and throwing. But there was always other work to be done. Handbuilding, working with the reclaim, loading-firing-unloading the kiln, waxing the pots, glazing, sweeping the floors, going to the store for supplies, emptying the latrine, fixing up the studio, reading about potters, paying bills, eating lunch, etc. With all these other responsibilities and needs, it often felt like I never had time to actually make pots.


I don’t want exaggerate this into some hard luck story of suffering through years of busy work until I understood something about pots. To tell you the truth, the understanding didn’t come out of the hard work or some revelation of my own. I’m pretty sure I read it in a pottery book or heard it from a friend. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that at some point I realized that you can’t throw a good pot if your studio is a mess. Your clay is gonna catch some debris or it won’t be properly wedged or reclaimed. Maybe you get sick from the dust or not eating right.


The point is that sweeping the floors is just as much a part of making a good pot as the throwing. I suspect that good potters know that when they are sweeping the floors or emptying the latrine, they are making pots. It helps to make that work not just something to get through, but a substantial part of being a potter. It’s a way of taking the same pride in a clean floor as you might in great coffee mug. That’s what I mean when I talk about not making writing a separate part of my life.


Writing will affect my friendships. It will affect how I teach. It will affect how I hope and grieve. It will affect how I cook and jog. And these activities, in their turn, will affect how I write.


So where am I going with all this? Research is writing. Blogging is writing. So everyday now, I have to choose to want to be a writer, and I have to keep in mind what that actually means.

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