The voices are gone. I have not heard Mattie or Joe in over a week, and I am tremendously bugged by that. It feels as though I’ve been left alone. And I have some serious abandonment issues as it is.
When the voices do not come to me, I seek them out. I am bouncing around in my reading–Sylvia Plath’s journals and letters, The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, The Hours, and Fields of Toil. Each book brings me a bit closer to the voices, but they are muffled. I cannot discern what they are saying.
And I think all of this comes because of my erratic process. Because I am an occassional writer. I admit that I do not write every day. Sometimes I will go a week before I even journal.
I’m okay with that. When I am not writing, I am still writing.
My work–that is, the job I get paid to do–would not exist without the notion of writing as process. I talk about process every day, whether it’s with students, my staff, or faculty. I am inundated with emails from listservs, and each day I see messages about some part of the writing process. I edit my own emails before I send them. I make lists each morning of what I need to accomplish that day. I think. I spend a great deal of my time thinking, mulling over what I need to say or do. And then I write.
That is how it goes for me. That is my process. Messy. Erratic. I have tried to fight it. A couple months ago I was writing nearly every night, staying up late to get words on paper. I wasn’t happy with most of what I was writing. I found that I was writing just so I could say I’d done something. So that when someone asked me if I’d written, I could say ‘yes.’ I could say yes and feel accomplished.
There is this part of me that feels as though I am being somehow judged if I do not write, or if I admit to not writing. I imagine the voices in others’ heads: you are a writer, or so you say, and you are not writing? That doesn’t make sense.
And I judge myself. I feel like a hack.
But I have to remind myself that I am writing. When there is no ink on the page, no characters on the screen, I am writing. The process of writing, in academia, anyway, begins with an assignment. Then we talk about the rhetorical situation–audience, purpose, occasion. The research question, the research itself, evidence, support, main idea. And so on.
It’s all process. Reading is part of the writing process. Thinking is part of the writing process.
I consider these things, these facts that I share with students and tutors and it makes sense and it’s accepted and much is accomplished when these things are taken into consideration, when thinking becomes part of the writing process. When students are stuck, I tell them to go for a walk, feed the dog, take a nap. Get away from the desk and the page. This is not a sort of abandonment; it is another method of approach.
I write in my head. I can hear the words now, several sentences before my fingers type them. This is what happens in the days when I am writing–really, actually writing–fiction, when I am at what feels like my best. And in that time, when I am feeding the dog or taking a walk, I still hear these voices. I hear them and I try to put them on a shelf, to save them for later, for a time when there is paper.
And when there are no voices, I find other things to do, other ways to participate in the process. That is what I have been up to lately. I have been reading these books and letting facts and realities and rhythms settle into my head. I put them on that shelf, too, and hope that the voices will return as I am walking and that they will sit on the shelf beside the things I have learned and that when I approach the page again, when I am at my best, my research and my characters and my rhythms will fall from head to fingers and fingers to page.
It is not enough to sit still and wait, and hope, to hear voices.