Ideal Conditions for Writing

 “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” E. B. White

I rediscovered the above quotation in a recent installment of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s online cornucopia of all things interesting. It made me think about my constant complaining about working at home amongst the clutter of my life, which I share with a husband who often mistakes his side of the bed for the laundry bin; a daughter, who mistakes the entire house for a laundry bin; a Jack Russel terrier that sheds; two guineas that squeak; and a green-cheek conure, who squawks anytime you’re in the vicinity of her cage. There may be some optimal conditions for getting work done—Virginia Woolf’s room of one’s one comes to mind, as does the cabin in the woods retreat with meals delivered to your doorstep. But many of us don’t have those luxuries or options. We live in cities and suburbs with spouses, children, pets—or neighbors with noisy leaf blowers and lawn mowers. We fit in time to write before our housemates get up or while commuting to work on the train.

Despite my yearning to retreat to a quiet place and to be left alone, the fact is that my most productive writing days have taken place in the broad daylight of my everyday life, packed with responsibility and pressure. Not because of that old, stupid saying about busy people being most productive, but because I’ve built in accountability and structure. As an art critic, I had deadlines. And when I didn’t have deadlines anymore, I had dead space. When I filled those spaces with classes and/or with writing groups in which we set weekly intentions, I kicked ass.

Here is what I’m offering in my upcoming course on the personal essay:

1)   Time and space to write. You make the commitment to come to class, and I’ll provide time and quiet space for us to write together.

2)   Structure and accountability. I’ll give you short assignments with clear, doable deadlines. You show up and complete them.

3)   Feedback and community. I’ll offer gentle feedback for revisions and an atmosphere of mutual support.

4)   Soup to nuts, step by step, conception to submission, guidance for writing the personal essay.

I love writing personal essays, and I can’t wait to share the process with my students. I’ve got a few spots left. Who’s in?

(C) 2011 Saundra Goldman