The Writing Life: To Hear the Softly Spoken Magic Spells by William Henderson

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Steal time to write, as if time is a commodity, something to hoard and, well, steal. From my children and from my friends and even from myself, trading in television programs on which I’ve given up for more time in front of my computer, something soothing playing, or maybe something angry. Depends, the music to which I listen informing and being informed by the words. Always the words.

Easy, leaving the computer off, or, not off, never off, but not on, while on. If that makes sense. Off, but on, like the times when I can’t steal time but can think my way through the project on which I’m currently working. Sentences forming and unforming and reforming, long enough to send myself an email with enough words inside to remind me of the inspiration that that morning’s run brought. Not run. A fast walk on a treadmill I’ve grown to hate.  Don’t have to steal time for it; if I don’t use it, I feel guilty. If I don’t write, I don’t feel guilty. I just think that I’ll double-down the next day, or the day after, or even three days after, if three days after is the next day during which I’ll have a period of uninterrupted time during which to write.

Someone always needs something that I don’t always have to give. Or time to give. Back to time. Slippery, my feelings about time. With time, I can write. In time, I will be done writing. And in even more time, the project will be published, and I can move on to what comes next. More and less time, depending.

Elastic, how days feel when I am writing. Day to night to day again, but only on those days when my children are at their mother’s house. On the days when my children are with me, day does not become night without my realizing it, because only at night, on those days, do I have time to write. And only sometimes.

You try writing after parenting two children – a four year old and a one year old – for more than a dozen hours. Writing is sometimes the last thing I want to do, which is when I know I need to write, even if just something about the day to post on my blog. Rusty, how my mind feels on those days when I can’t write. Rusty, my feeling rusty. I do not let myself grow rusty often, but when I do, as when I miss a day or two on the treadmill, I don’t feel like myself.

On the page, I find ways to order things that happen, have happened, will happen. Easy, these sentences with their clear pronouns, their way of never ending in prepositions, and their ambivalence toward adverbs. Is that right? Do you feel ambivalence toward something? For something? About something? All of these prepositions waiting to be used, if you have time to use these prepositions waiting to be used. Time. Always time.

Write when you can, and write what you know, and don’t write what you know, or write what you don’t know, and you know you’re a writer if you can’t not write, and writers always can find the time, and all of these rules and definitions that time seems not to know, because if time knew how much I need to better control it, then I would always find, and not need to steal, time.

Balance what you need to do with what you want to do, and if you’re lucky, need and want will be the same thing and the page will be filled and the words will be written and the sentences will become paragraphs will become pages and you will look up and realize that the time you needed has come, and now gone, and you cannot give back what you stole. All you can do is use what you’ve stolen in the best way you can, and hope that time will not learn your tricks and figure out a way of locking away the time you need to do the things that you need to do. 

william hendersonWilliam Henderson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. He has written a memoir, House of Cards, from which 27 excerpts have appeared in literary journals and magazines. He writes a weekly column for Specter Literary Magazine, Dog-eared, and will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: The Other Man and Stripped. He is a full-time writer, takes care of his two children, and is working on a second book.

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