A Writing Practice

Or – What Writing Isn’t to Me


My ex-husband used to call my writing a hobby. I had a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and five traditionally published books at the time. I’d been vetted to become a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. I read my work at international festivals and translated and collaborated with great writers*.

But it didn’t pay the bills. So: Hobby, he said.

Last year I decided that I am not even going to try to write to pay the bills. I made that decision at the same time I decided to focus much more of my energy on writing and bookmaking.

But yeah, still feeling caustic when I hear someone talk about my “hobby”.

I’m not the kind of person comfortable with saying things like: I write because it is who I am. I honestly believe writing is a doing thing, not a being thing. It’s a very metaphysical argument, so no worries, I’m not out to convince anyone to see it my way. It’s just what I believe.

And I would not die if I didn’t write. I have more than a passing acquaintance with mental disorders and I take that phrase quite seriously: I would die. I seriously doubt I would die. I’ve other ways to express myself if that’s the crux of this expression. I can shout a lot of curse words. Or at least a choice few over and over.

And I giggle.

I know that writing can make things better, and it can also make things much worse. The reformist and orator Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote in her diary rather cryptically that she knew she shouldn’t write poetry because it would be the end of her. I am paraphrasing wildly here, but you get the gist. As a mature woman, she limited herself to letter-writing and to the genre she helped establish: oration.

I may be projecting, but I believe I recognize Dix’s fear. Poetry can be like alcohol. Like an opiate. So, yeah, I get it: I would die. But, no. Poetry, and writing in general, is a tool I can utilize — with great care — for my mental health. But it is not a cure.

When I think of a hobby, I think of something that soothes you, something that takes you out of your difficult life. Like recess for grown-ups. I have hobbies. Drawing. Running. Photography. And maybe if I were a storyteller, I could embrace writing as a hobby. Might even have ambitions to become a professional. But I’m not that kind of writer.

Writing every day is a practice for me, the same way that some people practice their faith. Like prayer. It’s like the way I practice meditation. Yoga.

These daily activities differ from my routine morning run in their focus. It’s not inward at all. And it’s not a diversion.

It’s not as much about personal growth as it is about transgressing the boundaries of my person. It’s about trying to accept the world. To really see it — and my place in it — on its own terms.

It’s evening as I type this, and that may be why this missive is not an example of my practice, not a piece of literary prose. This is navel-gazing, at best.

But it’s also a bit of sharing, for anyone else out there bristling at the word “hobby” when it’s used to describe their practice.

I don’t know. Actually, now that I have the word for it in my own vocabulary, I don’t feel quite as bristly about it. It’s all practice, isn’t it?

perspective does not
shift with a clearer perception
the same ham-fisted 
man adjusting the TV’s
rabbit ears for reception.


*Someone on Twitter informed me that bragging “isn’t a good look” for a middle-aged white woman. Well, I can’t win for losing either, so I blocked him. I considered getting off Twitter. But I’m still there.

4 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. In fourth grade, a nun told me I can’t sing — in front of scores of other kids trying out for the school chorus. I guess I’ll never know for sure. Too late in life, I realized how ridiculous that was. It is late in the game and not worth all the therapy to find out if I should try, nor all the lessons to learn how. Karaoke’s loss, I guess.

    Fortunately for me, I found another line of work that I loved, as a journalist. By the time I was writing for a living, the words of others were felt but, right or wrong, hadn’t the impact of a highly opinionated nun.

    This is a long way around to saying that in the year or so that I have been enjoying your writing, the word “hobby” never once came to mind. A lot of superlatives did, and gratitude. Your sensitivity is both your gift and your bane. Keep embracing it. And thank you for sharing with us, your caring strangers.

    • Thank you for this! What a lovely thing to wake up to. I hope you do sing in the shower at least – everyone sings well in the shower.

  2. In January I decided that I would stop writing. I had been writing “everyday” for eight years and I decided that it wasn’t going anywhere. So I stopped. For a day. I told my friend I was done. She got quiet and said “ok”.
    Then a week passed. And I knew I couldn’t quit. It might never take me anywhere. But I’m not done writing.

Comments: