Featured Writing

A dream of leisure

Liked Against Mythologizing the Practice of Writing by Amber Sparks (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Writing)

These “how I write” pieces, for example, have almost nothing to do with being a writer, and the reasons they’re shared have very little to do with being a writer. They’re actually about the dream of being freed from economic anxiety and the wheel of capitalism, and from the various demands on us from our families and loved ones. They’re a dream of “being just a writer,” which is less a dream about writing than a dream about leisure.

I think part of finding happiness is wading through the mystique we’ve swathed something we want in and uncovering what it is we truly want at the core, then accepting that want, whether it’s what we expected or not. Sparks is onto something, that many like the idea of having written, or dream of the mellow, artistic lifestyle of an idealized writer’s life, but the writing itself may be superfluous. Sometimes you think you want something, then realize you were mythologizing your conception of it, believing it would fulfill some other need — but figuring out that need itself is more useful than imagining what-ifs.

I used to think I wanted a home off the grid, out in the mountains — but then I realized that I was drawn to the aesthetic, not the reality of that life. I’m relieved my husband and I didn’t get a mountain caretaker job we applied for in our twenties 😂 I actually want to live close to a library and to friends, somewhere I don’t have to drive everywhere. I don’t want to be self-reliant; I want community (and to be able to hire people for handy jobs I don’t know how to do 😉).

Writing, too, I’ve questioned in the off years when I’ve struggled with writer’s block: do I actually want to be a writer? Do I actually like this? But I keep coming back to it, slogging away even though I have nothing of substance to show anyone else. I’m learning, I’m making progress, and I don’t think I’d have written quite so many novels if there wasn’t something I found satisfying about the work. And if sometimes my body or mind rebels against the work for a while, that’s less a function of disliking writing than lacking capacity under capitalism.

It’s appealing to wonder how work could be made effortless, to imagine that we’re making it out to be harder than it is. Sometimes, though, the work really is that hard. Because writing is not just one craft: it’s wordcraft at a sentence level, it’s storytelling and pacing and worldbuilding at a structural level, it’s emotional connection through character development, it’s nurturing ideas into substance, it’s a regular practice and process, it’s editing at a structural and sentence level, it’s accepting critique and understanding how to use feedback, it’s self-teaching all of the above, it’s learning to recognize that a work is done. Wielding that many tools is not often instinctive nor an overnight skill.

I wonder if part of the reward of fiction writing is that it is something that hasn’t come easy to me, like a lot of other activities have; it is something I’ve had to push and slog through, something I’ve chosen to put the work into. That my willingness to persevere in learning the craft of storytelling over more than ten years means this has inherent value for me. That even though I want to publish, it’s also fine if I never do and have simply dedicated this time to the practice of a craft.

Wishing for having the time to be only a writer is understandable — I have that dream too. Our system works us to burnout, taking everything from us it can transmute into profit. It puts no value on art or personal expression or leisure or deep thinking. Even for children, art and music are the first programs to be cut as inessential. To write in our system is to dredge up some reserves that we hope we can spare, to hold a kernel of ourselves back from the machine. The dream is not just of the freedom for the time and energy and security to pursue personal fulfillment, but of a system that values these things. And I don’t think that’s silly at all, whether someone actually wants to write or not.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

3 replies on “A dream of leisure”

This is excellent Tracy. I have been blogging for 21 years, had a book published, think I love writing – but will do anything but sit down and do it and believe that you are onto something with the idea that it represents some other need.

Thanks Euan! I’ve been struggling with sitting down and writing lately, which I’ve noticed often means I’m under emotional stress or I’m feeling stymied or intimidated by a writing problem — but sometimes the avoidance is probably related to the writing too 🤷‍♀️

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