My husband takes a picture of me at a pub in London, England. We have travelled there partly for a vacation and partly for research for a book I’m writing about my ancestors. In the time we were there, I did the research but didn’t appear to spend a lot of time writing – at least, I wasn’t writing in the way people think of writing. I didn’t spend much time at the desk or on my computer – but trust me when I say, I was writing.
Writing doesn’t always look the way we think it should. Most writing takes place while engaging in other activities away from the desk. A lot of my writing takes place cerebrally before any words hit the page and it all comes up when I’m travelling, swimming, going for a walk, or even soaking in the tub. There’s a lot of thinking, observing, and absorbing that goes on in my head – I gather impressions and images from the outside world and let them tumble around for little while as I try to put the pieces together. My writing buddy calls it a stew – letting all the ingredients simmer before lifting the lid – and she’s right. It can take a lot of simmering before I’m ready to sit down, lift the lid and pour the words out.
I often feel guilty when I’m not physically at the desk, but I’ve come to understand that writing is more than just typing words on the page – yes, the words must get there eventually, but they don’t have to go there right away. They need some time to sort out a few things – how does this piece of writing start? What’s it about? Where is it going? How does it end? These questions are usually answered over time as they simmer in my origin stew.
Writing comes in many forms. The lone figure at the desk typing away on the computer is the way most people think of writing – but there are so many ways to write. So, the next time you see a writer staring into space remember there’s a lot going on beneath the surface – a whole novel may be emerging as they stare out the window and into another world.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.