Place, Ritual, (no) Writing
As usual, times of writing difficulty and aversion put into relief the kind of forces that get wrapped up in and complicate the writing process. I had an afternoon today in which I thought I was going to work on an essay that's past its deadline. I just didn't do it. Instead, I organized things, I paid bills and sent mail, spoke to my mom on the phone, napped, wrote this. I resolved that I absolutely must get out of the house tomorrow morning and to a coffee shop for three hours. In that space I can buckle down. That space, the public space of a coffeehouse, has less control over me, it seems.
I think everyone, every writer who's ever written something that required attention, has experienced the pull of the domestic space on their writing. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that this is one of the most common experiences of writing: the not-writing activities that we talk about as nonetheless implicitly related to writing. Most of these forces are organizational and physical and are experienced as absolutely compulsory. Writing work is displaced by vigorous dishwashing, sock drawer organization, ritual cleaning of the workspace, "going through" the email inbox, doing laundry. As a researcher interested in process and the stories writers tell about how they do writing work, I want to know what is up with this utterly common experience of being compelled to physically act and organize your space instead of write. What compels these behaviors? What does physical space and physical, ritual activity have to do with the act of composing? And perhaps most importantly, why do writers understand these activities as related to writing, as part of the writing process rather than a distraction to it?
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Dr. Hannah J. Rule