“I would like to see writing as an expansive field. Unfortunately, I only tend to see it that way in brief flashes—usually toward the beginning of a project. As the work takes shape, more and more directions become impossible, and so the field contracts. I often think about how to preserve that sense of openness. How long can you make it last?” —Sofia Samatar
The Jewish month of Shvat has come to a close, the full moon celebration of Tu B’Shvat two weeks past. The sap is just starting to rise in the trees and the birds are still singing, even with a storm on the way and a foot of snow still on the ground from last week. From new moon to new moon, we mark time.
Even as the last month turns its face away from us, I blink, puzzled. Where did the time go? And why haven’t I accomplished what I wanted this Shvat/January?
While I don’t wish to cultivate an adversarial relationship to time—one where there can never be enough, one where I attempt to dig down into the calcified sphere of the clock to extract more resources like some kind of oil baron—it remains the case that I do need to, you know, get things done. And yet, I find myself caught between the sum of tasks to be tackled and the delightfully unruly nature of that which I cannot yet name.
Some tasks, for instance, are easy to determine. Reading a book means progressing forward from page to page, usually in a linear fashion. Writing a review of that same book is a bit more complex just by virtue of writing being a more open process, with various inroads towards the goal of a polished piece.
Some people write outlines and stick very closely to them, others wander far from their own projected paths, and still others don’t use outlines at all. I think it was the people behind the month-long writing marathon NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that coined the “planner vs pantser” archetypes, where the “pantser” refers to someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than any particular plan.
I find that in my own writing, however, I tend to fall somewhat outside the spectrum of having an outline vs not having one. It’s not that I have no plan at all, but rather that I write towards the longing of the piece. I do this by filling pages and pages with freewriting and meta-writing (writing around the piece, usually directed by questions I pose myself regarding what the writing itself wants to become).
If it’s a small piece, like this newsletter or a book review, I often don’t need to do much of this, just a few paragraphs is usually enough to set me on the right course. A larger piece like a novel—well, I’m working on a couple of those right now, and I don’t have outlines (yet?) but I do have several notebooks’ worth of meta-writing and freewriting. That writing leads me towards the scenes I want to write first, which often aren’t even articulated as scenes in my mind, but rather as ideas I’m reaching towards.
In this way, it can be really difficult to break down projects into smaller goals and tasks. How does one write anything but by writing towards it? And often, we just don’t know how long that will take.
And so, and so. Where did the time go? And why haven’t I accomplished what I wanted to this past month?
I find myself turning to Sofia Samatar, as I so often do, quoted at the beginning of this newsletter. How to preserve that sense of openness? How long can you make it last? I’m reminded of the two tarot cards that open the major arcana after the Fool—the Magician and the High Priestess.
As Rachel Pollack tells it, they’re a binary pair, the channeling of the Magician only available through decisive action, the very action from which the High Priestess abstains. It is possible, in a sense, to follow the openness that the High Priestess promises, and it’s important to learn how to do so. And yet, even the inaction of not making a choice turns into a choice by default.
What remains is to move forward with an active choice. While it’s true that other possibilities may fall away, the energy that propels you through that choice may just carry you through the rest of the project. I’ve lost a lot of time trying to decide what to do each day, so I keep coming back to this, hoping that sometime it might actually sink in. Hoping that the sense of openness might not disappear, after all.
A few announcements:
I’m leading a full moon ritual this month for the Making App!
The full moon in Leo is an opportunity to practice open-heartedness and love in our creative work and relationships. This ritual will bring together embodied grounding, hand-washing, and guided meditation with journaling prompts and space for writing towards our longings.
To learn more and register, check out the Making App here (you’ll need to register with the site in order to see the classes they offer, but it’s a really cool community of artists, so in my opinion it’s worth it to see what they’ve got going on!)
My second announcement is that I was lucky enough to be a guest on Yarrow Magdalena’s Creative Nature podcast a few months back (I know, a while ago, but it kept slipping my mind to share it here, even though I’m very happy with it!). We chatted about longing as a structure, writing in and outside of academic and professional institutions, the moon as a queer ancestral home, and much more, feel free to check it out here.