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Ear to the ground: Absorption versus creation

Why taking time off from writing can be a good thing.

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Authors frequently encourage writers to put pen to paper every single day. While I certainly understand the sentiment – no book was ever magicked into existence without an abundance of butt-in-chair time on the author’s part – sometimes I worry that it puts too much pressure on the act of creation and not enough on the act of absorption.

I’m far from the first to compare writers to sponges, soaking in our surroundings to later wring art from our stores. But as the first long winter of the pandemic approaches for many of us, I fear some have precious little to wring. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of being stretched too thin, with too many obligations drawing time and attention away from our art, and I feel such deep sympathy for all our readers who desperately want to write but cannot find energy or seconds to do so in lockdown. But I also think there are times that call for a writer to voluntarily put down the pen and enter a state of deep absorption, and that’s exactly where I find myself now. It’s not a block, and it’s not a vow of silence; rather, it feels like an intense state of listening, and it’s one that’s essential for both my craft and my sanity.

I recently moved from Virginia to Alaska, a bracing transition under any circumstances, but particularly unsettling during a global pandemic. Every day brings a new challenge: Moose! Bears! Giant mosquitos! Plumbing woes! Furniture shopping in an age of COVID-19! And you’re telling me I need to start thinking about snow tires in September?

Standing 6 feet apart from the repair crews, the plumbers, my neighbors, my mailman, I’m amazed at everyone’s helpful tips and stories, offered openly and earnestly despite our masks and distance. Every day, thanks to their graciousness, I listen and learn. I hear which veterinarian in town was a longtime head vet at the Iditarod. I discover which neighborhood tree often boasts baby bears in springtime. I’m told where to catch salmon, to grab dinner, to pick wild blueberries, to see the Northern Lights come winter. I have nothing to offer in return just yet; I should probably be embarrassed at how little I know. But truthfully? I’m not embarrassed. Instead, I feel a hunger to learn. I want to absorb everything, take all these stories in and hold them close. I don’t feel lost. I feel open. Welcomed. And tremendously, tremendously grateful. 

I know, too, that when the ground feels steadier and I have my own stories to share, I can pay their kindness forward.

My advice to you as we brace for this long winter spent indoors: Don’t mistake absorption for inaction. What you fear is a block may very well be a part of your creative process. It could take a while for you to fill your creative stores again, and that’s perfectly fine.

Whether we find ourselves listening or speaking this winter, may we all find whatever scraps of inspiration we can – and seize them tight for when the time is right to use them.

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