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How to write without writing

Monday, February 15, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Paekakariki beach

This is a picture of me writing

Well. Not exactly.

In this picture I'm smiling at the photographer, my friend Christine. Moments before the photo was taken we were walking and talking together, which means I probably wasn't writing.

But most of the time when I walk on this beach, near my home, I'm really writing.

Take today for example. 

Today was the first Monday that I had the house to myself since before Christmas. It was my first chance to return to my familiar routine. On Monday mornings I teach yoga in the local church hall. I come home. I make a cup of tea and I sit down to write.

Today I had a half-written final chapter of my book to finish. Now that I have an agent waiting for my chapters, my self-imposed deadlines have taken on new life. I needed to write.

But today when I got home from yoga I didn't make a cup of tea.

I didn't sit down to write.

Instead I went out for a walk.

The past six weeks have been a wonderful whirlwind. I've had dozens of house guests. Our home has hosted two wedding parties. I've had builders and electricians and two gorgeous German backpackers/gardeners in the house. I signed with an agent. I won a literary contest. I started teaching a new Off the Mat course. I designed, filmed and distributed dozens of custom yoga practices and led a 30 day yoga sadhana with participants all over the world.

Partly thanks to a nudge from a certain fire-starter, for the past six weeks I've been on fire!

Today I knew that I needed to slow down for a while. Because I can't write about the light on a cloudy afternoon if I don't take the time to look at it.

It takes time to see a flower, just like it takes time to see a friend.

That's what Natalie Goldberg told me as I walked with her today

So I walked. I took time to see the seagull that wiggled its legs in the air as though it was paddling furiously to stay afloat. I took time to see the colour of the ocean. It was deep khaki green but as the water drew into the thin point of each wave it became became translucent mustard.

As I walked, as always seems to happen, I realised what was going wrong with the chapter I was working on.

So I stopped and pulled out the tiny notebook I had in my pocket for just such an eventuality. Sitting in the sand on the side of the track I scribbled for ten minutes. It was all I needed.

Because some days that's how I write. By not writing.

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6 Responses to "How to write without writing"

  1. Laura Fragiacomo says:

    Hi Marianne..I really enjoy your blog realising we have much in common except I’m not a human rights lawyer and I’m not writing a book :)…Great perspective for a Monday morning – we all need to take the time to stop and pay attention to the detailed movement of life taking place all around us…writing or not writing…thanks for sharing!

  2. leonie says:

    how very true these words are. and what an amazing start to your year you have had. can’t wait to read more of the chapters of your life as you live them and share your experiences here

  3. Swirly says:

    That beach is a perfect writing beach, and I look forward to the day when we get to walk along it together again. I miss you so much!

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    You know, I might try this line with my chief reporter today: “No, I’m not sunbathing on the riverbank, I’m writing your front page lead – can’t you see that?”
    Hmm. Unfortunately, chief reporters seem to be impervious to arguments like this!
    Seriously though. I think your point is a good one. Often when we let go of something we’re struggling with, and turn our attention to something lovely [like a beach], we find a solution. Nice one.

  5. Alexis Grant says:

    Love this! So true. I’ve been meaning to write a post about how I “write” while running… You just inspired me to get to it 🙂

  6. Jen Chandler says:

    Hello Marianne! I wandered this way after reading Alexis Grant’s latest post and scrolling through the comments. I couldn’t help but stop by. A writer who teaches yoga? How serendipitous. I’m a writer wanting to teach yoga.
    Your blog is beautiful! I will definitely come back with I have time to roam.
    Happy Tuesday,

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